The body of the leader of Sri Lanka’s Tamil Tiger rebels, Velupillai Prabhakaran, is to undergo DNA and forensic tests along with the corpses of other top rebels, officials said today.
Prabhakaran was killed this morning along with two of his deputies after a two-hour firefight when they tried to break to freedom through advancing government troops, defence officials said. His body was badly burnt when his armour-plated van was hit by a rocket and burst into flames.
State television broke into its regular programming to announce Prabhakaran’s death, and the government information department sent a text message to cell phones across the country confirming that he was dead.
The announcement prompted mass celebrations around the country, and people poured into the streets of Colombo dancing and singing.
“We have successfully ended the war,” Gotabhaya Rajapakse, Sri Lanka’s Defence Secretary, formally told President Mahinda Rajapakse, in a nationally televised ceremony. President Rajapakse is his brother and commander-in-chief of the Sri Lankan armed forces.
Officials said that 40 of the 300 dead bodies found at the scene of the rebels’ last stand have been shifted to a government hospital, with the army taking special charge of Prabhakaran’s corpse.
Magistrate Chamari Danansuriya asked police to arrange DNA and other forensic tests on the corpses. Autopsies will be carried out at Anuradhapura hospital in the north of the island, a court official said.
As the clean-up operation began, it emerged that three Sri Lankan doctors who treated hundreds of badly wounded civilians in understaffed, makeshift hospitals in the war zone have been arrested on charges of giving false information about the casualties to the media.
Troops closed in on Prabhakaran and his last remaining loyalists early this morning, according to the army. The Sri Lankan military's version of events cannot be independently verified as journalists were barred from the war zone.
He and his top deputies reportedly tried to escape by driving their an armour-plated van, accompanied by a bus filled with rebel fighters, straight at approaching Sri Lankan forces, sparking a two-hour firefight.
The battle only ended when troops fired a rocket at the van. Troops pulled Prabhakaran’s body out and identified it. The attack also killed Soosai, the head of the rebels’ naval wing, and Pottu Amman, the group’s feared intelligence commander, the officials said.
Earlier, the military announced that it had killed Prabhakaran’s son Charles Anthony, also a rebel leader. Special forces also found the bodies of Balasingham Nadesan, leader of the rebels’ political wing, Seevaratnam Puleedevan, the head of the rebels’ peace secretariat, and one of the top military leaders, known as Ramesh.
The chubby, mustachioed Prabhakaran turned what was little more than a street gang in the late 1970s into one of the world’s most feared insurgencies. He demanded unwavering loyalty and gave his followers vials of cyanide to wear around their necks and bite into in case of capture.
Since civil war broke out in 1983 the rebels have been fighting ruthlessly for a separate state for Sri Lanka’s ethnic Tamil minority, after years of discrimination at the hands of the Sinhalese majority.
At the height of his power, Prabhakaran controlled one third of Sri Lanka and commanded a force that including an infantry, backed by artillery, a significant naval wing and a nascent air force. He also controlled a suicide squad known as the Black Tigers that was blamed for scores of deadly attacks.
He and Pottu Amman are still wanted for arranging the murder of Rajiv Gandhi, the Indian Prime Minister, and the Indian Government today asked the Sri Lankan authorities for urgent confirmation of their deaths.