Sri Lanka clash kills 5, security high for rebel funeral

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COLOMBO, Nov 4 (Reuters) Four Tamil Tigers and a soldier were killed in fighting in north Sri Lanka today, the military said, while security was boosted across the island ahead of the funeral of a rebel leader killed on Friday.

Troops and police erected additional road blocks and sent extra patrols onto the streets, asking civilians to be vigilant and inform them of any suspicious movements.

There are fears the Tigers may retaliate for the death of S.P. Thamilselvan, the head of the rebel's political wing who was killed in an air raid. His funeral is due tomorrow.

Analysts say the killing of Thamilselvan, who led the rebel delegation at the last round of peace talks with the Sri Lankan government in late 2006, had weakened prospects of halting a war that has killed around 5,000 people since early last year and around 70,000 people since 1983.

Security had already been stepped up in Colombo yesterday.

The capital has been bristling with green sandbag turrets and road blocks manned by heavily armed troops and police for months in the face of heightened violence.

''We have intensified security arrangements such as road blocks and also we have deployed additional patrols for the towns,'' said police spokesman Jayantha Wickramarathne.

A spokesman at the Media Centre for National Security said troops killed four Tigers and destroyed four rebel bunkers in a clash in Muhamalai in the far northern Jaffna peninsula on Sunday. He said one soldier was also killed.

There was no independent confirmation of how many people were killed or what had happened.

S. Puleedevan, head of rebels' peace secretariat, said thousands of people were gathering in their northern stronghold of Kilinochchi to pay their last respects to Thamilselvan, who was the Tigers' international face and main negotiator. He was the most senior rebel killed in years.

Shadowy rebel leader Velupillai Prabhakaran, who lives in hiding, issued a rare statement overnight paying tribute to Thamilselvan, saying he loved him deeply like a younger brother.

There were none of the dire warnings that have traditionally peppered his statements.

''We would like to peacefully bury our political leader. Then we will continue our activities as we have been,'' Puleedevan told Reuters.

Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa, President Mahinda Rajapaksa's brother, has warned the military would pick off the rest of the Tigers' leaders one by one.

While the military has had the upper hand in recent months and evicted the rebels from their eastern stronghold, the Tigers and their suicide fighter wing are still able to mount daring attacks.

Analysts see no clear winner on the horizon and say the conflict could rumble on for years.

REUTERS NY RK2207

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