Colombo, May 19: Sri Lankan troops recovered the body of slain rebel leader Velupillai Prabhakaran on Tuesday, a day after he was killed in the Tamil Tigers’ last stand against government forces in the north, the military said.
Footage broadcast on the private Swarnawahini television station showed a body that appeared to be the rebel leader, still dressed in his dark green camouflage uniform, laid out on the grass as soldiers stood nearby. A blue cloth covered the top of his head, apparently to cover a bullet wound there. His open eyes stared straight up and his face appeared bloated.
The government had announced Prabhakaran’s killing on Monday, but later said they had not yet found his body. A rebel official abroad denied Prabhakaran was killed and said he was in a safe place.
As speculation grew about Prabhakaran’s fate, army chief Gen. Sarath Fonseka announced that his body had been recovered.
“A few hours ago, the body of terrorist leader Prabhakaran, who ruined this country, was found in the battleground,” he told state television. “I take responsibility for this statement.”
Fonseka’s announcement came hours after President Mahinda Rajapaksa delivered a victory address to parliament, declaring that his country had been “liberated” from terrorism after defeating the Tamil Tiger rebels on the battlefield.
Recounting how the rebels, known formally as the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, once controlled a wide swath of the north and much of the east, Rajapaksa said that for the first time in 30 years, the country was unified under its elected government.
“We have liberated the whole country from LTTE terrorism,” he said, declaring Wednesday a national holiday to celebrate the armed forces.
The rebels, listed as terrorists by the U.S. and European Union, had been fighting for three decades for a homeland for the mainly Hindu Tamil minority after decades of marginalization at the hands of governments dominated by the mainly Buddhist Sinhalese majority.
Briefly addressing parliament in the Tamil language, Rajapaksa said the war was not waged against the Tamil people.
“Our intention was to save the Tamil people from the cruel grip of the LTTE. We all must now live as equals in this free country,” he said.
Rajapaksa has said in the past that he would negotiate some form of power-sharing with the Tamil community following the war and he alluded Tuesday to the need for an agreement.
“We must find a homegrown solution to this conflict. That solution should be acceptable to all the communities,” he said. “That solution, which would be based on the philosophy of Buddhism, will be an example to the whole world.”