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Page last updated at 13:32 GMT, Tuesday, 19 May 2009 14:32 UK

Tamil doubts over rebel leader's death

By Alastair Lawson
BBC News

Picture allegedly showing the body of Tamil Tiger leader Velupillai Prabhakaran
The photos said to show Prabhakaran's body have not convinced everyone

The Sri Lankan military has released pictures of Tamil Tiger leader Velupillai Prabhakaran which it says prove conclusively that he is dead.

State and private stations aired footage of what they said was the body of Prabhakaran, along with what looked like his Tamil Tiger identity card and tag.

The army says his body has been positively identified with DNA testing.

But rebel sympathisers say questions remain about when and how he and other rebel leaders were killed, and over apparently contradictory statements in relation to his reported death.

Some among Sri Lanka's Tamil community and the influential Tamil diaspora doubt whether the rebel leader really is dead.

Ambushed

"The government is eager to present this as its Ceausescu moment - with photographs of the body of the tyrant widely released to give the impression that a defining moment has been reached," one Colombo-based diplomat told the BBC - drawing an analogy with the filmed execution of the Romanian dictator in December 1989.

Poster of President Rajapaksa
The president is ecstatic over the victory on the battlefiled

"But there are questions surrounding Prabhakaran's identity tag. Is it really credible that a man reputed to have numerous lookalike doubles to avoid capture by the army would really carry this around with him?"

The army says Prabhakaran's bullet-ridden body was found on the banks of the Nanthikadal lagoon, his last stronghold in north-east Sri Lanka on Tuesday morning. Earlier it said his body was found on Monday morning.

Army spokesman Brig Udaya Nanayakkara said the rebel leader had been shot in scrubland - probably in fierce fighting.

That statement contradicted an earlier announcement - made on state television but never verified by the army - that Prabhakaran's badly burnt body was discovered on Monday.

It said Prabhakaran had been killed after he was ambushed by commandos as he made a desperate attempt to break through government lines in an ambulance. He had been badly burnt when his vehicle burst into flames, it said.

Our beloved leader Velupillai Prabhakaran is alive and safe
Selvarasa Pathmanathan
Tamil Tiger official

State TV also said the rebel leader's body had been found with those of intelligence chief Pottu Amman and Soosai - the Tamil Tiger naval commander.

But on Tuesday the army said Soosai's death had not been confirmed.

Its version of events was first given by Gen Sarath Fonseka.

"The good news from the war front is that the body of the leader of the terrorist organisation which destroyed the country for the last 30 years, Prabhakaran, have been found by the army. We have identified the body," he said.

Gen Fonseka said the bodies of the rebels would be disposed without any formal funerals as "many of them were in bad shape".

The private TV stations Derana and Swarnavahini showed soldiers surrounding what the troops said was Prabhakaran's body, with his distinctive moustache and regulation tiger-stripe camouflage fatigues.

Denial

The government argues that there are perfectly innocent explanations for the differing accounts of Prabhakaran's death - that in war time what is happening on the battlefront can sometimes get confused.

The BBC Tamil section's Jagadheesan Leklapoodi says that following the release of the photographs most Indian Tamil newspapers appear to have accepted that Prabhakaran is dead.

"But the Tamil population around the world will only grudgingly accept that is the case," he said.

"Prabhakaran is revered by some of them as the liberation hero fighting for their cause for over 30 years. Many of them will find it difficult to accept that he is no longer on the scene."

So far the most influential pro-rebel website, TamilNet, has not acknowledged the death.

Speaking before the release of the photos, a rebel official abroad denied Prabhakaran had been killed and said the Tamil Tiger leader was "alive and safe".

"He will continue to lead the quest for dignity and freedom for the Tamil people," Selvarasa Pathmanathan said in a statement posted on the pro-rebel TamilNet Web site on Tuesday.

But he offered no further details or evidence to support the claim, only drawing attention to what he said was Colombo's "treachery" in the killings of senior unarmed Tamil Tiger political wing leaders in the north-east, who he said had been shot as they carried white flags.

While the land fighting between the two sides has finished - the propaganda battle continues undiminished.



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