Colombo, May 19: Sri Lanka’s President Mahinda Rajapakse is to deliver a victory speech to Prliament on Tuesday following the bloody defeat of the Tamil Tigers and their decades-old war for an independent ethnic homeland.
Government commandos on Monday stormed into the last tiny patch of jungle held by the guerrillas, killing Tamil Tiger founder and leader Velupillai Prabhakaran and his two deputies as they tried to flee the onslaught.
Prabhakaran’s son and heir apparent, along with the entire leadership Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), were killed, the defence ministry said.
“We have successfully ended the war,” the island’s powerful defence secretary, Gotabhaya Rajapakse, told his brother the President Monday in a nationally televised ceremony.
“Prabhakaran’s body is among the 300 terrorist bodies that we captured,” Army chief Lieutenant General Sarath Fonseka said on state television. “Now the entire country is declared rid of terrorism.”
The final battle marked the end of one of Asia’s oldest and most brutal ethnic conflicts which left more than 70,000 dead from pitched battles, suicide attacks, bombings and assassinations.
Authorities had been determined to capture or kill Prabhakaran amid fears his escape could have led to an attempt to rebuild the LTTE and usher in a new cycle of violence.
“This is a victory against terrorism. I am very proud of our forces, of what they have done,” said Colombo student Ashani de Silva, as the city witnessed a massive celebrations late into Monday night.
National flags were put up over shops, homes and offices across the city, which has been frequently targeted by LTTE suicide bombers over the past quarter century.
The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) emerged in the 1970s, with all-out war breaking out in the early 1980s as they pursued their struggle for an independent Tamil homeland on the Sinhalese-majority island.
But the rebels made a dramatic announcement on Sunday, acknowledging that their battle for an independent ethnic homeland had reached its “bitter end”.
The separatist rebels were once one of the world’s most feared guerrilla armies, and ran a de facto mini-state spanning a third of the island before the government began a major offensive two years ago.
The pro-rebel Tamilnet website said the LTTE leadership had told the Red Cross and United Nations they had stopped fighting and wanted to give themselves up, and that there was a “determined massacre by the Sri Lanka Army“.
Killed in the final showdown were Prabhakaran and his deputies — Sea Tiger leader Colonel Soosai and LTTE intelligence chief Pottu Amman — as well as his 24-year-old son and potential heir Charles Anthony.
The group’s political wing leader B. Nadesan, and the head of the LTTE’s defunct Peace Secretariat, S Pulideevan, also lay dead on the jungle floor.
But President Rajapakse’s moment of triumph has also come at the cost of thousands of innocent lives lost in indiscriminate shelling, according to the United Nations. The UN’s rights body now wants a war crimes probe.
The European Union on Monday also called for an independent enquiry into alleged human rights violations, saying it was “appalled by the loss of innocent civilian lives as a result of the conflict and by the high numbers of casualties, including children.”
Rajapakse’s speech to Parliament will also be closely watched for signals that the hawkish, Sinhalese nationalist government is willing to address the long-standing grievances of the island’s Tamil minority.
The estimated 250,000 people displaced by the war have been shifted moved into state-run “welfare villages” — camps ringed by barbed wire and another source of international alarm.
Rights workers, aid groups and journalists are also being denied free access to the north. United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon was to visit Sri Lanka later this week, the island’s foreign minister said.