The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam admitted for the first time today that their founder Vellipillai Prabhakaran was killed during a gunfight with Sri Lankan forces.
Since the announcement of Prabhakaran’s death at the beginning of last week by the Sri Lankan army, the few remaining official spokespersons for the Tamil Tigers had been adamant in public that their leader was alive.
But in a statement released today Selvarasa Pathmanathan, an LTTE leader who is in hiding abroad and heads up the group’s diplomacy wing, said their “incomparable leader” had “attained martyrdom”. Declaring a week of mourning he said: “We announce today, with inexpressible sadness and heavy hearts that our incomparable leader... attained martyrdom.”
“For over three decades, our leader was the heart and soul and the symbol of hope, pride and determination for the whole people of Tamil Eelam (Homeland).”
There was some confusion last night over whether the LTTE were now willing to abandon their 30-year armed insurgency to create a separate state for the island’s persecuted Tamils. Pathmanathan’s statement said Prabhakaran’s final request was “for the struggle to continue until we achieved the freedom for his people.”
But in phone interview with the BBC the LTTE leader said they would now do so through peaceful means only.
As a military force the Tamil Tigers have been all but wiped out in the past few weeks and most of the senior leaders have been killed.
But support for the group amongst the wealthy Tamil diaspora remains strong and there may be a number of mid-level leaders who have survived and could continue some sort of guerrilla insurgency.
There is also a growing body of evidence to suggest that a number of Tamil Tiger leaders may have been gunned down by Sri Lankan forces as they were trying to surrender in the final days of the conflict.
A number of Tamil politicians in South India and a Norwegian peacekeeper have said they received numerous calls from senior LTTE leaders who were wanting to surrender as Sri Lankan troops closed in.