Sri Lanka declared final victory in its 26-year war with the Tamil Tigers on Monday, saying in a state television broadcast that the leader of the insurgents was among 250 fighters killed in a final, bloody battle for the last sliver of rebel-held territory. The announcement appeared to mean that Asia's longest civil war, and one of the world's most enduring insurgencies, ended in the battlefield defeat of rebels who once controlled a quarter of Sri Lanka's territory as they pressed their campaign for an independent homeland for the Tamil minority. But peace could be even more daunting for Sri Lanka.
Slain rebel leader was elusive, feared
Velupillai Prabhakaran (Ve-LU'-pi-lay PRAH'-bah-ka-ran) — a portly leader with a bushy mustache and trusty Browning pistol — ruled ruthlessly over a shadow state of hundreds of thousands of people across a swath of northern Sri Lanka that had its own flag, police force and court system. He killed off all potential rivals and many Tamil intellectuals. Even as they recruited child soldiers, the Tigers — formally known as the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam — operated their own navy and air force, once bombing Colombo's international airport. The rebels reportedly earned as much as $300 million a year from arms and drug smuggling, a network of fake charities and donations from Tamil expatriates. Prabhakaran was rarely seen in public, preferring to communicate in a radio address he delivered every November. He ordered his followers to abstain from sex, cut personal ties and carry glass vials of cyanide on necklaces so they could kill themselves upon capture.
An uneasy transition lies ahead
President Mahinda Rajapaksa, who plans to declare official victory today in a speech to Parliament, has promised a power-sharing deal with the minority Tamils, but many fear that the government will not be magnanimous in victory. Pope Benedict XVI asked humanitarian groups to do everything possible to care for terrified civilians. Also, the destruction of the rebels' conventional forces does not mean the threat is over. Insurgents hiding in the jungles of the east have emerged periodically to attack government forces and civilians, and the rebels had sleeper cells in Colombo and other towns. At least one top rebel leader, Selvarasa Pathmanathan, remains at large.
Doctors arrested after helping civilians
Three Sri Lankan doctors who treated hundreds of badly wounded civilians in understaffed, makeshift hospitals in the country's war zone were detained on accusations they gave false information about the casualties to the media, a health official said Monday.