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Last Updated: Friday, 19 March, 2004, 13:03 GMT
5,000 rally for breakaway Tiger
Colonel Karuna confers with a guard
The Tamil Tigers accuse Colonel Karuna (right) of treason
About 5,000 people have rallied in the eastern Sri Lankan town of Batticaloa in support of breakaway Tamil Tiger leader Colonel Karuna.

Colonel Karuna split from the main Tigers group this month, complaining the east was not being represented by the rebels' northern-based leaders.

The protesters burned photos of the main commander, Velupillai Prabhakaran.

The split has thrown further doubt on the island's two-year-old ceasefire and fragile peace process.

War claim

The demonstrators pledged their support for Colonel Karuna, the nom de guerre of Vinayagamoorthy Muralitharan, in front of a Hindu temple.

They also burned effigies of three senior rebel leaders who left Colonel Karuna and returned to the main faction.

Colonel Karuna has been called a traitor by the main faction.

The split casts a further shadow on the ceasefire between the Tigers and the government.

Colonel Karuna says the main faction is preparing to return to war, possibly after general elections in April.

A Tiger spokesman has said there is no truth in the claim.

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