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Tamil Tiger leaders ‘killed trying to surrender

[AFP, Thursday, 21 May 2009 11:02 No Comment]

Two top members of the Tamil Tigers may have been shot by their own side or executed by Sri Lankan troops while trying to surrender, according to conflicting accounts of the last days of the rebels.

Hours before the Sri Lankan defence ministry announced the entire rebel leadership had been killed and the decades-old war won, Tamil Tiger political chief B. Nadesan and Peace Secretariat head S. Pulideevan were trying to give themselves up.

On Sunday night, the pair called the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the island’s former peace broker Norway, asking for the message to be passed to the Sri Lankan army, diplomats and aid officials said.

The Red Cross confirmed the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) officials had made contact in the closing hours of the war, after offering to "silence their guns."

"We were approached by the LTTE and Norway as part of our role as a neutral intermediary," ICRC spokeswoman Sarasi Wijeratne said, adding that the message was passed to the Sri Lankan government.

"I don’t know what happened. We lost contact with the LTTE in the final stages," Wijeratne told AFP

According to a diplomat familiar with the communications, the last message from Pulideevan was that "they were going to cross over with a white flag, with their families."

The source asked not to be identified due to the sensitivity of the issue.

"The next thing we heard was on Monday morning, when the Sri Lankans said they were dead. But what transpired after the satellite phone calls, I don’t know.

"They may have been shot by their own side for trying to surrender. They may have got out too late, as troops were moving in. They may have been executed by the army. In Sri Lanka, neither side takes any prisoners," the source said.

The Tamil Tigers were infamous for wearing cyanide capsules around their necks to avoid being captured alive, and seldom took prisoners during their quarter-century fight for an independent state.

Government troops were equally ruthless towards an enemy that had perfected the use of the suicide bomber.

A second diplomatic source said Nadesan and Pulideevan — who always cast themselves as LTTE politicians rather than fighters — did appear to want to live.

"They were non-stop on the phone, trying to get out," the diplomat said.

He refused to speculate on the circumstances of their deaths, but commented that "Sri Lanka is just one big violation of the Geneva Conventions."

A senior Sri Lankan official said the two were killed by their own side.

"I was contacted by a third party (ICRC) saying that the two of them want to surrender," the island’s foreign secretary, Palitha Kohona, told AFP.

"I told them to follow the widely accepted procedure — take a white flag and walk slowly towards the army lines in an unthreatening manner. What I learnt subsequently is that the two of them were shot from behind as they tried to come out.

"They had been killed by the LTTE," he said.

The LTTE has accused the Sri Lankan government of carrying out a "well-planned massacre" of unarmed officers with the aim of eliminating the Tigers’ political structure.

The LTTE’s chief of international relations, Selvarasa Pathmanathan, said in a statement on Monday that "some member states of the international community" had made arrangements with the Sri Lankan military for discussions on an orderly end to the war.

He claimed Pulideevan and Nadesan "were instructed to make contact with the 58th Division of the Sri Lankan forces in the war zone, un-armed and carrying white flags… When they complied they were both shot and killed."

The exact circumstances of the last moments of the LTTE, including of its leader Velupillai Prabhakaran, are unlikely to ever be known.

Prabhakaran’s corpse has been shown on state television, apparently with a gunshot wound to the head. Defence sources initially said on Monday that he was killed while trying to flee in an ambulance and that his body was badly burned.

The ICRC, the only neutral organisation that was working in the war zone, had to halt its operations in the final stages of the war because of heavy fighting. The ICRC also has a strict code of secrecy.

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