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Sri Lanka recovers top rebel bodies, fights remnants

[Reuters, Monday, 18 May 2009 07:03 No Comment]

Sri Lankan special forces fought on Monday to destroy the remnants of the Tamil Tigers in the final battle of a quarter-century war, while the military said it found the bodies of top rebels including the leader’s son.

The fate of that leader, Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) founder Vellupillai Prabhakaran, remained a mystery.

Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa declared victory on Saturday and the Tigers admitted defeat the day after, even as the last battle in a civil war that erupted in 1983 was being fought inside less than a square kilometre (0.5 mile).

The imminent firing of the war’s last shot propelled the currency <LKR=> and stock markets <.CSE> to one-month and seven-month highs respectively. [ID:nCOL492656]

In Colombo, demonstrators threw rocks at the British High Commmission, tossed a burning effigy of Foreign Secretary David Miliband inside and spray-painted its heavily fortified wall with epithets and a message: "LTTE headquarters".

Miliband has been critical of the Sri Lankan government’s prosecution of the war, and is seen here as sympathetic to the vocal pro-LTTE lobby that has protested outside parliament for weeks in Britain. London has said it backs a war crimes probe.

Sri Lanka has been furious that a number of its embassies in foreign capitals have been vandalised by Tamil Tiger backers.

At the front, troops found the body of Prabhakaran’s son and heir-apparent, Charles Anthony, defence spokesman Keheliya Rambukwella said.

Tiger political wing head B. Nadesan and spokesman Seevaratnam Puleedevan were among 78 bodies also found, he said.

The remaining LTTE fighters were battling special forces troops from bunkers surrounded by mines and booby-traps.

"Now they are restricted to 300 square metres, and are destroying all their assets even though they said they would silence their guns," Rambukwella said, a reference to Sunday’s LTTE statement admitting defeat.

HUNTING PRABHAKARAN

Military sources said checks were still being carried out on a body thought to be Prabhakaran’s, but so far were unconclusive.

Overnight, another corpse suspected to be his was found in an ambulance troops blew up with a rocket-propelled grenade as it sped out of the war zone.

"It caught fire and we found three bodies and we believe one may be Prabhakaran. We are checking," a military source said on condition of anonymity. Three other military sources gave the same account, but the military officially had no comment.

The LTTE could not be reached for comment and it was not possible to verify the military’s assertions since the battlefront has been sealed off to outside observers.

Rajapaksa prorogued parliament on Monday, the required step for him to take the role of speaker and address the body. He was due to make his formal declaration of victory there on Tuesday.

In less than three years, Sri Lanka’s bulked-up military has answered critics who said there was no way to defeat the LTTE, which had carefully crafted an aura of military invincibility.

Troops have seized 15,000 sq km from the LTTE, which it had ruled as a de facto state for Sri Lanka’s Tamil minority and guarded with a standing army, naval wing and even a small air force. The LTTE had called it Tamil Eelam.

The cataclysmic end came after the government rejected calls for a truce to protect civilians, and the Tigers refused to surrender and free 50,000-100,000 people the United Nations and others said they were holding as human shields.

Each side accuses the other of killing civilians, and diplomats say there is evidence both have done so. The U.N. rights chief on Friday said she backed an inquiry into potential war crimes and humanitarian violations by both sides.

The final battle intensified after the last of the 72,000 civilians remaining in the war zone were reported freed on Sunday.

But diplomats and aid workers said they feared some civilians may still have been inside the war zone after the military had declared it freed of non-combatants. Those remaining were likely to be relatives of LTTE members or diehard supporters, they said.

The LTTE on Sunday said that 3,000 people were dead and 25,000 wounded. The government has repeatedly accused the Tigers of manufacturing or exaggerating civilian deaths to garner international sympathy so it can by time to rearm.

[Full Coverage]

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