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Last Updated: Saturday, 5 July, 2003, 13:03 GMT 14:03 UK
Tamil Tigers mark 'martyr' day
By Anna Horsburgh-Porter
BBC Sri Lanka correspondent

Sri Lanka's Tamil Tigers in the north of the country are marking Black Tiger Day - the annual commemoration of suicide bombers who have died during the past two decades of conflict.

This is the second time the rebel organisation has honoured those who died in its elite suicide squads since the ceasefire was signed nearly 18 months ago, and it comes at a time when the peace seems increasingly fragile.

Black Tigers. Picture: 2002
Black Tigers always wear black masks in public
The Sri Lankan army has stepped up security in the area and the Norwegian peace monitors say they are keeping a vigilant eye on the events to mark this day.

Jaffna Town on the Sri Lankan Government's held side of the northern peninsula is covered with red and yellow flags - the colours of the Tamil Tigers.

Nearly every shop is flying them and the streets are lined with flags and banners of the organisations.

Fly posted all over the walls are posters depicting members of the elite suicide core - the Black Tigers.

The Sri Lankan army is much in evidence on the streets of Jaffna, but they do not seem to be interfering with displays of support for those who died fighting for a separate Tamil state.

Graveside tributes

By the sides of the roads and in between shops shrines have been erected to these dead men and women.

Their pictures are hung with garlands of flowers and surrounded by Tamil Tiger insignia.

At the martyrs cemetery just outside the town, parents have left flowers on their sons and daughters' graves.

The Black Tiger's are renowned for being an elite squad of men and women who pioneered the art of suicide bombing.

They wear cyanide capsules around their necks in order to kill themselves rather than be captured and have targeted prominent politicians and presidents, including the former Indian Prime Minister, Rajiv Gandhi.

Calls for change

Their identities are a closely guarded secret. They always wear black masks in public and it is said that before each Black Tiger left for a mission they were given a last dinner by the elusive leader of the organisation, Velupillai Prabakharan.

It is said that over 240 Black Tigers have died on suicide missions on land and sea since the first suicide bombing in 1987.

The commemorations are going on well into the night with parades and speeches on the site where the first suicide bomber blew up 40 soldiers in the Sri Lankan army camp 16 years ago.

The Tamil Tigers have been urged to decommission their suicide squad as a sign of their commitment to the ceasefire.

But at this delicate stage of negotiations, when peace talks have been stalled since April, they say the Black Tigers will not be withdrawn until a permanent peace has been achieved.

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