COLOMBO, Nov 3 (Reuters) Sri Lanka's military beefed up security in the capital Colombo today because of fears Tamil Tiger rebels mourning their political wing leader, slain in an air raid a day earlier, will retaliate.
The Tigers announced three days of mourning for S P Thamilselvan, the international face and main interlocutor of the separatist group, whose killing analysts say, is a major setback for hopes of resuming peace talks any time soon.
''We have to take extra precautions,'' said military spokesman Brigadier Udaya Nanayakkara.
Reuters reporters saw security personnel erect snap checkpoints in Colombo, which is already bristling with green sandbag turrets and road blocks manned by heavily armed troops and police, as a new chapter in a two-decade civil war opens.
Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa, President Mahinda Rajapaksa's brother, yesterday welcomed the death of Thamilselvan -- the most senior rebel killed in years -- and said the military would pick off the rest of the Tigers' leaders one by one.
Shadowy rebel leader Velupillai Prabhakaran, who lives in hiding, issued a rare statement paying tribute to Thamilselvan, saying he loved him deeply like a younger brother.
''Despite the repeated and continuous calls from the international community to find a peaceful resolution to (the) Tamil national question, we have not seen any goodwill from the Sinhala nation,'' he said in an emailed statement.
''On the contrary, it is sending war-vultures that are dropping giant bombs. It has cruelly killed our peace dove,'' he added.
''Strengthened by his nourishment we will continue to travel on our path towards the goal with renewed determination.'' Pro-rebel Web site www.tamilnet.com carried pictures of Prabhakaran placing a garland around Thamilselvan in an open coffin draped with the Tigers' red flag emblazoned with a roaring golden Tiger and crossed rifles.
Bandages traditionally used to cover up severe damage to corpses were placed on his forehead.
PEACE HOPES FADE 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.
''I think its going to be much more difficult now to revive the peace process at any time in the immediate future,'' said Rohan Edrisinha, an analyst at independent thinktank the Centre for Policy Alternatives.
''The government will probably see this as a big achievement but I'm not so sure ... the strategy of the government is going to facilitate a long-term durable peace and the immediate outcome could possibly be increasing violence and increasing military confrontation.'' 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 atre still able to mount daring attacks.
Analysts see no clear winner on the horizon and say the conflict could rumble on for years.
REUTERS AM AS2342