05/18/2009, 00.00
SRI LANKA
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Military announces Tamil Tiger defeat, death of rebel leader Prabhakaran

by Melani Manel Perera
Fireworks and celebrations are held in the main towns and cities. The government urges the Sri Lankans to show the flag to mark the end of the 26-year-old war. President Rajapaksa announces an address to the nation for tomorrow.
Colombo (AsiaNews) – Jeyawewa, victory, is the cry echoing throughout the capital and many cities and towns in southern Sri Lanka. Streets are filled with the sounds of fireworks as people celebrate the news of the final defeat of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) and the confirmation that its leader, Vellupillai Prabhakaran, was dead. For hours this morning uncertainty still prevailed over his fate, then national TV made the announcement and the government confirmed it.

Sri Lankan authorities called on the island’s population to hang the national flag from homes, offices and public buildings to mark the end of the 26-year and the “heroic soldiers who sacrificed their lives.”

Celebrations begun yesterday after President Mahinda Rajapksa returned from a G11 summit of middle and low income nations held in Jordan.

Welcomed by his ministers as a hero, Rajapaksa said he would address parliament on Tuesday morning at 9.30 (GMT + 5:30) on a live TV and radio broadcast.

The Sri Lankan military had already claimed victory over the Tamil Tigers yesterday when it announced that it had surrounded the rebels’ last 1 kilometre redoubt along the coastline north of Vellamullivaikkal.

Selvarasa Pathmanathan, head of the LTTE Department of International Relation, said: “We remain with one last choice—to remove the last weak excuse of the enemy for killing our people. We have decided to silence our guns.”

Confirming that the war had reached its “bitter end”, he called on the international community to safeguard the life and dignity of the Tamil population

He claimed that several civilians were killed or injured in the heavy fighting over the last two days.

For its part the Sri Lankan military said that it had completed the rescue operation of civilians held by the LTTE, rejecting accusation from the United Nations and Red Cross that spoke of a “bloodbath in the combat zone. Instead it claimed that Sri Lankan soldiers were able to rescue about 70,000 people with in the last 72 hours.

UN sources estimate that about seven thousand civilians have been killed since the start of the year.

Now uncertainty hangs over the former rebels. Tamil Tiger leaders are expected to be tried by a Sri Lankan tribunal, but rank-and-file rebels are expected to undergo a programme of rehabilitation and reinsertion into civilian life.

Still, although guns might have fallen silent, the humanitarian emergency remains as urgent as ever. Currently, about 190,000 refugees live in centres run by the military in the north.

The government has appealed to the international community for foreign aid to meet immediate needs like food, drugs and clothing.

As the Pope said in yesterday at the end of the Regina Caeli, the ones who are suffering are the “thousands of children, women and elderly who lost years of life and hope to the war.”

For them Benedict appealed to “humanitarian organisations, including Catholic organisations, to leave no stone unturned in their effort to bring urgent food and medical aid to the refugees.”

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