prabhakaran

President Rajapaksa told parliament: ‘Let us all be united’

Sri Lankan leader Mahinda Rajapaksa has declared the country “liberated” from Tamil Tiger rebels after a 26-year war.

Mr Rajapaksa made the announcement in a speech to the country’s parliament, a day after the army said rebel leader Velupillai Prabhakaran had been killed. An army spokesman told the BBC that authorities were yet to identify Prabhakaran’s body, saying it was among a number of badly-burnt corpses. Tamil media outside Sri Lanka have denied the Tiger chief’s death.

In a nationally televised live address, President Rajapaksa hailed “a day which is very, very significant – not only to us Sri Lankans but to the entire world”. “Today we have been able to liberate the entire country from the clutches of terrorism,” he said. “We have been able to defeat one of the most heinous terrorist groups in the world.”As he walked into parliament, schoolgirls sang an ancient song of praise, while lawmakers held up the national flag.

After speaking in his native Sinhala, President Rajapaksa switched to the language of the Tamil minority, saying ethnic and religious divisions should end. “We must find a homegrown solution to this conflict. That solution should be acceptable to all the communities.”

Denial

The army said it killed Prabhakaran on Monday after over-running the last patch of territory held by the Tamil Tiger rebels (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, or LTTE). It said Prabhakaran, who founded and had led the LTTE since the mid-1970s, was shot dead with two senior deputies as they tried to escape.

SRI LANKA CONFLICT TIMELINE
1976 – LTTE formed
1983 – First attacks by Tamil Tiger rebels; start of ‘First Eelam War’
Feb 2002 – Government and rebels sign ceasefire
2004 – 2008 – Violence mounts
Jan 2008 – Government pulls out of ceasefire agreement
Jan 2009 – Government captures Tigers’ Kilinochchi headquarters
May 2009 – Government declares victory against Tigers

However, the pro-Tamil website TamiNet quoted LTTE diplomatic head Selvarajah Pathmanathan as saying Prabhakaran was still alive.

“I wish to inform the global Tamil community distressed witnessing the final events of the war that our beloved leader Vellupillai Prabhakaran is alive and safe,” he said.

The claims have not been independently verified because reporters are not allowed into the former conflict zone.

The Tigers had been fighting for a separate state for Tamils in the north and east of Sri Lanka since the 1970s.

More than 70,000 people have been killed in the conflict and thousands displaced. European Union foreign ministers meeting in Brussels condemned civilian casualties and called for an inquiry into alleged war crimes by both sides. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon’s office said he was planning to visit Sri Lanka, but did not provide details. Meanwhile, UN humanitarian aid chief John Holmes said the priority was to evacuate all the civilians caught up in the fighting.

Sources in the UN said significant numbers of civilians were still in the combat zone in the final days of fighting but the Sri Lankan government said all civilians had left.

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