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Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Sri Lankan military shows 'body of Tamil Tiger leader Prabhakaran' on TV

(The body of Charles Anthony, the son and heir apparent of Liberation Tigers leader Vellupillai Prabhakaran)

Sri Lankan military shows 'body of Tamil Tiger leader Prabhakaran' on TV

Sri Lankan state TV showed grisly pictures today of what it claimed was the dead body of Velupillai Prabhakaran, the leader of the Tamil Tigers.

Prabhakaran was wearing his signature combat fatigues and a dog tag bearing the serial number "001". His head was partially covered by a cloth but a gaping wound was clearly visible. A laminated Tamil Tiger ID card was also on display.

Brigadier Udaya Nanayakkara, a military spokesman, told The Times that the body was recovered earlier today and the authorities were "100 per cent positive" that it was Prabhakaran.
Troops found Prabhakaran's bullet-ridden body on the bank of the Nanthikadal lagoon, the Ministry of Defence said on its website.

Brigadier Nanayakkara said that Prabhakaran, who was the prime architect of a 26-year civil war that claimed more than 70,000 lives, had been shot, probably in fierce fighting yesterday morning.

The announcement contradicted previous official claims that Prabhakaran's badly burnt body had been discovered yesterday.

Military officials had said yesterday that Prabhakaran had been killed after he was ambushed by commandos as he made a desperate attempt to break through government lines in an ambulance.

Prabhakaran, who had sworn never to be taken alive, was badly burnt when his vehicle burst into flames, officials had said. No pictures were released of his body and DNA tests were ordered to prove his identity.

Brigadier Nanayakkara dismissed claims made by the Tigers' chief of international relations this morning that Prabhakaran was alive and safe and would "continue to lead the quest for dignity and freedom for the Tamil people".

"Our beloved leader is alive and safe. He will continue to lead the quest for dignity and freedom for the Tamil people," the Tigers' chief of international relations, Selvarasa Pathmanathan, said in a statement carried on the pro-rebel Tamilnet website.

Mr Pathmanathan gave no indication of the whereabouts of Prabhakaran.

The Tigers' claim came as Mahinda Rajapakse, the Sri Lankan President, announced the "complete defeat" of the rebels and vowed to press ahead with a "homegrown political solution" to end ethnic divisions between the majority Sinhalese population and the minority Tamils.

Addressing Parliament, Mr Rajapakse said that the Government now controlled “every inch” of the island state and had rid the country of terrorism after crushing the rebels on Monday.

"We have demonstrated that we can solve our problems and we will come up with a homegrown political solution," he said.

Sri Lanka would seek international aid to rebuild the devastated former Tiger strongholds in the north and east of the country, he added. He also delivered a rebuke to Britain and US, which are resented by some Sri Lankans for calling for a ceasefire just days before the Tigers were defeated.

"What we need from the international community is not advice, but material help to carry out our reconstruction effort," the President said.

Government forces said yesterday that they had found 300 bodies strewn over the 100-square-metre stretch of land where the last Tiger troops had hunkered down. Tamilnet said that the military had carried out a “determined massacre”.

Reporters were not allowed near the conflict zone to witness the aftermath.

In the north of Sri Lanka, fears for the wellbeing of an estimated 300,000 civilians displaced by the conflict escalated after the United Nations and the International Committee of the Red Cross – the only aid organisations allowed to operate in the conflict zone – were denied access to a large number of them on Saturday.

“It appears that the Government does not want us to see the condition of these people or witness the procedures it uses to screen them for possible escaped rebels,” a senior international aid worker said.

The internment camps, which are surrounded in barbed wire and have been dubbed “welfare villages” by the Government, had already triggered concerns among humanitarian organisations.

Prabhakaran built the Tigers into one of the deadliest terrorist organisations in the world.

He pioneered the use of suicide bombers, plotted the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi, the Indian Prime Minister, in 1991 and at one time commanded about a third of Sri Lanka as he fought to build a separate Tamil state in the north of the country.

Even Sri Lankans critical of the Government admitted yesterday that most of the country is delighted with the defeat of the rebels. There were urgent calls, however, for a political solution to avoid new terror strikes by radicalised Tamils angry at the treatment of their community.

“The majority of Sri Lankans feel a sense of relief and joy at the Army’s victory,” said Lal Wickrematunge, the managing editor of the Sunday Leader, a newspaper founded by his brother Lasantha, who was assassinated in January after he criticised the Government.

Mr Wickrematunge added: “The thing is, nobody is taking into account the attitude of the oppressed minorities.”

Sri Lanka’s minority Tamils were favoured under British rule, but in the 1950s a Sinhalese-dominated government began to pass laws that benefitted the majority Sinhalese population.

“Much depends on the path the Sri Lankan Government takes from here,” a Western diplomat said. “We hope it will not engage in ethic, nationalistic triumphalism. The Tamils must be included in the political process.”

In Britain, ten people were arrested for public order offences outside the Houses of Parliament in central London early today after protests by Tamil exiles turned violent. Twenty police officers were injured as they broke up the demonstration.

Shops were shuttered and businesses run by Britain's large Tamil population, estimated at around 300,000, were closed yesterday as the news sank in. Many expressed disbelief that the civil war waged by the Tamil Tiger movement since the early 1980s had come to an end, and said it would resume.

May 19, 2009

Guerrilla tactics - how the Tamil Tigers were beaten in an 'unwinnable' war

It was supposed to be the unwinnable war. For almost three decades, Sri Lanka was held up as an example of how a small democratic state with a conventional army could never defeat a well-funded and disciplined guerrilla organisation.

It has proved that to be untrue. But how Sri Lanka won its victory — and whether it should be condoned or copied — is the subject of an international debate that touches on the War on Terror, the UN and the new geopolitical world order.

Opinion is divided about whether Sri Lanka will win the peace by offering its 2.4 million ethnic Tamils an acceptable devolution package.

Whichever side one takes though, Sri Lanka offers valuable lessons for any country facing an insurgency — such as Pakistan and Afghanistan.

From a military perspective the campaign of the past two years has been such a success that it is being studied by counter-insurgency specialists around the world.

Key to that was the acquisition of fighter jets and radar from China and aerial surveillance drones from Israel that allowed the air force to target the Tigers accurately.

The army used guerrilla tactics — moving in small groups through the jungle rather than on main roads — while the Tigers fought a conventional campaign to defend their territory.

Military intelligence split the Tigers by persuading Colonel Karuna, their second in command, to defect in 2004, allowing the army to drive the rebels out of eastern Sri Lanka in 2007. The navy played a crucial role by attacking the Tigers’ supply ships, with help from India and the US.

In the international arena Sri Lanka outmanoeuvred the Tamil Tigers by taking advantage of counter-terrorism legislation introduced after the attacks on the US on September 11, 2001.

It lobbied hard to have the Tigers banned as terrorists in the US, EU, Canada and Australia, forcing those countries to crack down on their financing and arms procurement.

More recently it has cultivated ties with China, Iran and other non-Western powers to counterbalance Western criticism of its conduct of the war.

It also secured tacit approval for its campaign from the ruling Congress party in India, whose leader Sonia Gandhi was keen to avenge the assassination of her husband, Rajiv, by the Tigers in 1991.

The result has been paralysis of the UN system, with Western governments unable to put Sri Lanka on the formal agenda of the Security Council.

Britain, the EU and the UN rights chief have called for war crimes investigations and Washington is stalling an application by Sri Lanka for a $1.9 billion (£1.2 billion) emergency loan from the International Monetary Fund.

War crimes will be hard to prove and the IMF will probably grant the loan because withholding funds would be counter-productive now that the war is over.

It is on the domestic political front, however, that Sri Lanka’s strategy has been most questionable. Mahinda Rajapaksa promised to take a hard line against the Tigers and won the presidential election in 2005 in large part because Velupillai Prabakharan, their leader, forced northeastern Tamils to boycott the poll.

Since then the President has joined forces with a Sinhalese nationalist party to stir patriotic fervour that has stifled all political opposition by branding critics as terrorists.

The domestic media have been silenced by the Government’s failure to investigate attacks on journalists, of whom 14 have been killed since 2006.

Access to the front line has been minimal. That has guaranteed support for the war within the Sinhalese majority and a steady flow of recruits for the professional army, which has not released its casualty figures for months.

It also means that there has been no scrutiny of military tactics, which appear to have included shelling civilian areas, and no public debate about a long-term political solution.

Consequently, the army has alienated many moderate Tamils through its disregard for civilian casualties and callous treatment of the 200,000 Tamils in internment camps.

The Government must work fast to rebuild its democratic institutions and reassure those Tamils that they can benefit more from peace than war. It needs vastly to improve conditions in the camps and keep its promise to resettle 80 per cent of the inmates by the end of this year.

It also needs to present a devolution package granting enough autonomy to satisfy Tamils not just in Sri Lanka but also in the large and wealthy diaspora that funded the Tigers.

If it succeeds it may yet add weight to the idea that terrorists such as the Tigers can be beaten only by curbing civil liberties, keeping the media away and using brute force — just as Russia did in Chechnya.

If it fails, however, it will have squandered the sympathy of the democratic world — not to mention billions of pounds — and created a new generation of Tigers.

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