Sri Lankan president announces end of civil war, Prabhakaran’s body found (Third Lead)

May 19th, 2009 - 3:24 pm ICT by IANS  

Colombo, May 19 (DPA) Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa Tuesday officially announced the end of the over 25-year-old civil war against Tamil rebels as the army’s commander said the body of rebel leader Velupillai Prabhakaran has been positively identified.
General Sarath Fonseka’s official announcement came hours after the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) claimed its rebel leader was still alive.

Rajapaksa said in a speech at the parliament that he was addressing the nation after victory in the war against the LTTE but made no specific mention of Prabhakaran.

“Today, we have been able to liberate the whole country from LTTE terrorism,” he said. “We have been able to defeat one of the most heinous terrorist groups in the world.”

Rajapaksa said he did not believe the war was the final solution to the ethnic conflict with separatists among the minority Tamils and said his task would be to offer a political settlement that would be acceptable to all communities.

He rejected implementing any solution imposed by another country but vowed to find a “homegrown” solution.

The president stressed that the end of the war against the LTTE was not a defeat of the Tamil community and pledged that “to protect all people, including Tamil-speaking people, is my duty and responsibility”.

“I am calling on all Tamils who left the country to return to the country,” Rajapaska said, rejecting that there were ethnic tensions between the island nation’s majority Sinhalese and minority Tamils. “There are no minority communities in the country.”

Rajapaksa vowed to resettle the estimated 250,000 people displaced in the recent fighting in the north-east at their home villages under better living conditions. That region has hardly seen any development activities in the past three decades.

The Tamil Tigers, meanwhile, “categorically rejected” government claims that their commander had been killed.

“Our beloved leader Velupillai Prabhakaran is alive and safe,” LTTE spokesman S Pathmanathan said in a statement released on the pro-rebel TamilNet website.

“He will continue to lead the quest for dignity and freedom for the Tamil people,” it said.

State media said Monday that Prabhakaran had been killed in the fighting. According to ground troops, Prabhakaran was trying to flee the combat zone in an ambulance when the vehicle was hit by the army and caught fire. Prabhakaran’s body was burned, they said.

The LTTE, which had been fighting for an independent homeland for Tamils, also accused the Sri Lankan army of “crimes against humanity”, saying two senior leaders were shot and killed by the army’s 58th Division when they approached for talks for an “orderly end of the war”, the TamilNet.com statement said.

It alleged the army killed P. Nadesan and S. Pulidevan of the LTTE’s political division while they were unarmed and carrying white flags.

Elsewhere, people set off firecrackers in flag-bedecked streets in celebration as Rajapaksa spoke. Parades, street celebrations and religious functions were among the events held to mark the victory. Wednesday was declared a national holiday.

A government statement appealed to the public to fly the national flag in all houses and institutions “as a mark of victory achieved by security forces in defeating terrorism and as a tribute to heroic soldiers who sacrificed their lives for the nation.”

More than 90,000 people lost their lives in the conflict, and many thousands more were maimed and wounded.

On Monday evening, Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa and the commanders of the army, navy, air force and police met Mahinda Rajapaksa to inform him about the offensive against the LTTE.

Military operations against the rebels were halted at midday Monday after the army said as many as 18 of most senior LTTE leaders had been killed.

Among those killed were Prabhakaran’s son Charles Anthony, deputy LTTE leader and intelligence chief Pottu Amman and the rebel navy commander Soosai.

Other senior LTTE members reported killed were political division head P. Nadesan; S. Pulidevan, the head of the Tamil Tiger’s peace secretariat; and Kapil who was in charge of the LTTE police wing.

As many as 250 rebels were killed in the final confrontation at Vellamulliavaikkal, 395 km north-east of Colombo.

With the end of the conflict, focus shifted toward the 250,000 civilians who fled the rebel-held area and now live in government camps in the Northern Province.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon was due Friday in Sri Lanka to assess its humanitarian needs.

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