Alert security as rebels mourn top Tiger

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Colombo, Nov 3: Sri Lanka's military beefed up security in the capital Colombo today amid fears Tamil Tiger rebels mourning their political wing leader, slain in a air raid a day earlier, will retaliate. The Tigers announced three days of mourning for SP 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 deepens.

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.

Rebel military spokesman Rasiah Ilanthiraiyan said reclusive rebel leader Velupillai Prabhakaran would issue a statement on the death of his top colleague.

Pro-rebel Web site 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.

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 darkened prospects of halting a war that has killed around 5,000 people since early last year and around 70,000 people since 1983.

Peace Horses Darkened

''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.'' The state-run Daily News, a government mouthpiece, trumpeted the killing.

''We see yesterday's air strike which killed Tiger political wing leader S P Thamilselvan as another major blow for the LTTE,'' it said in an editorial.

The military's official WEb site carried a photograph of Thamilselvan in characteristic Tiger camouflage fatigues.

''Who is this LTTE 'political leader' and what was he doing?'' it said. ''The so-called LTTE political leader ... was not much different from his weapon-carrying fellow Tigers who are actively engaged in a killing spree.'' 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.


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