Sri Lanka military says Tamil Tiger chief killed

By C. Bryson Hull and Ranga Sirilal

COLOMBO (Reuters) - Sri Lankan special forces troops killed Tamil Tiger leader Vellupillai Prabhakaran as he tried to flee the war zone early on Monday, military sources said.

The 54-year-old who founded the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) on a culture of suicide before surrender had vowed never to be taken alive.

The LTTE on Sunday conceded defeat in a 25-year civil war, after a relentless Sri Lankan military offensive that retook the 15,000 sq km (5,792 sq miles) the rebels ran as a separate state when a 2002 truce began falling apart three years ago.

"It was confirmed Prabhakaran was killed when trying to flee in an ambulance before dawn. We are waiting for the official announcement by the president," a military source told Reuters on condition of anonymity.

Four others sources confirmed the account. There was no immediate official comment from the military. It was impossible to verify the accounts independently, since access to the war zone is sealed off to outside observers.

President Mahinda Rajapaksa declared victory on Saturday, even as the final battle in Asia's longest modern war was intensifying.

Sri Lankan special forces troops on Monday were still fighting to destroy the remnants the LTTE, dug into bunkers in 300 sq metres of sandy ground near the Indian Ocean island's northeastern coast, the military said.

News of the Tiger chief's death came as state TV for the first time broadcast images of the body of his son and heir apparent, Charles Anthony, and other dead Tigers.

He was killed overnight, the military said, along with a host of other top LTTE fighters and political cadres, including political chief B. Nadesan and spokesman Seevaratnam Puleedevan.

The imminent firing of the conventional war's last shot propelled the currency and stock markets to one-month and seven-month highs respectively.

Article Published: 18/05/2009