The government of Sril Lanka announced via state media and SMS today (Monday, May 18, 2009) afternoon that the leader of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), Vellupillai Prabhakaran, is dead. News media are reporting that Prabhakaran, who was at the helm of one of the world's most violent rebellions, was killed by rocket grenade while in a van with the head of the LTTE's navy, Soosai, and the LTTE intelligence chief, Pottu Amman. The body of the rebel leader will undergo DNA tests to confirm identity. About 250 members of the Tamil Tigers were reportedly killed in the final surge of fighting in the country's 26-year-old war.
Obituaries of Prabhakaran note that he was a hero to some and a ruthless killer to others. The BBC writes, “To his followers, Vellupillai Prabhakaran was a freedom fighter struggling for Tamil emancipation. To his adversaries he was a secretive megalomaniac with a complete disregard for human life.” The Hindu in India says, “A ‘freedom fighter’ for his supporters and a dreaded terrorist for others, Prabhakaran was wanted by Interpol and many other organisations since 1990 for terrorism, murder and organised crime.” Long before the world was aware of Osama Bin Laden or Al-Qaeda, Prabhakaran started to use a new method of guerrilla warfare, suicide bombing. This cover story on Tehelka magazine reveals a lot about this war lord.
The Blogger of Beyond Skin explains it this way:
First reaction: WHAAA! [goosebumps and jaw-drop and an overwhelmingly contradictory feeling of both dread and relief.]
Second reaction: Now what? After 26 years of fighting, after displacing and killing hundreds of thousands, after silencing those who dissent against both the government and the LTTE through assassinations, torture and disappearance, what now of the Tamil people?
United National Party organizer Ajith P. Perera wrote in his own obituary for Prabhakaran in his blog, Dare to be different: “He was a terrorist, no doubt, but Prabhakaran deserves an obituary, even in a language he barely understood,” Perera wrote.
Did he achieve anything worthwhile for his community? The answer is a big NO. Ethnic (Jaffna) Tamils are worse off than they were in 1970s. More than half of the Tamil population has already left for good. Thousands of Tamil families had to live with eternal grief of losing one or more family members. Ethnic Tamils, the largest minority in Sri Lanka then, has now reduced to the pathetic third place after Muslims and Indian Tamils. Jaffna, the second most advanced city in Sri Lanka, with its famous education system, is now far behind. As a community Tamils, at least the unfortunate ones to still remain, have moved ten or twenty years backward. They were termed as terrorists across the world. North and East have become more and more economically dependent on Colombo. At least for the next few years, till a UNP government implements a political solution, they will be remotely controlled from Colombo. All thanks to Prabhakaran.
Sri Lankan Tamil activist and former LTTE member Nirmala Rajasingam explains in an opinion piece in The Independent that her sister was murdered by the LTTE 20 years ago.
For that reason, the news of the demise of the LTTE's top leadership – which ordered her killing and the killings of many other Tamil dissenters – brings overwhelming relief. The war and carnage has at last stopped and the insistent bloodletting of Tamil dissent is now over.
But she cautions:
The continued refusal of full access to humanitarian agencies does not allay suspicions about the government's intentions toward the refugees and the LTTE cadres who have surrendered. The last three years have seen a large number of abductions, extrajudicial killings and disappearances, almost exclusively targeting the Tamil community as the government of Sri Lanka relentlessly pursued its military campaign. The militarisation of state and society has been able to suppress dissent in the south, even mounting attacks on journalists. We wait to see whether the government will reverse this downward spiral in democratic governance.
is in Hambantota. Fire crackers. Seems Prabhakaran is dead. No glory in death, but, well, good. May Sri Lanka rebuild #fb
they're lighting firecrackers literally meters from the gas cylinder depot. The fishmongers are yelling to get back to work.
Hambantota town is mostly Muslim, back to business. Flag convoys thru Ambalantota. War's over, Prabha's dead. Long live Sri Lanka #fb
Prahalathan KK, a blogger in Chennai, India, says that rejoicing in Prabhakaran's death is a diservice to the civilians killed in order to make the LTTE's defeat possible.
“So Prabhakaran the Terrorist has been killed. Happy? Rejoicing? Ever thought of the thousands of innocent Tamils who were slaughtered by the indiscriminate use of artillery and chemical weapons by the Sri Lankan army during the Genocidal war?”
According to the Ministry of Defence website, the almost 150,000 civilians who have fled the war zone in less than a month are being cared for by the army. But The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), the only independent organization that has had access to civilians in the conflict zone, called the situation “nothing short of catastrophic.” Today, they in a news release that the they have not had access to civilians in the north-east for nine days. “This is all the more urgent since no humanitarian aid has reached those who need it for over a week,” said director of operations, Pierre Krähenbühl. Selvarasa Pathmanathan, head of the LTTE’s International Diplomatic Relations, released a statement on Sunday announcing that the Tigers will “silence our guns to save our people.” He said that 3,000 civilians have died and 25,000 are injured.
Prominent South Asian diaspora blog Sepia Mutiny reports on continuing protests in Canada. In a post about a gathering in Winnipeg. Melvin writes:
They held candles, signs, black flags and pictures of children whom they see as victims of the Sri Lankan government’s assault on civilians. While people in Colombo and elsewhere celebrated the apparent end of the 25-year civil war, those at the vigil mourned the deaths of innocent people and wondered what, if anything, had been solved. “It doesn’t solve anything,” Singarajah said. “People’s grievances aren’t going to be over. This government is so ruthless. They don’t want to give us our rights. As long as that is the case, the problems will go on.”
Protests have been ongoing in London, many parts of Canada and more recently in Australia. But activist Rajasingam cautioned in Foreign Policy magazine that the Tamil diaspora has taken a misguided approach to its message:
As Sri Lanka's humanitarian crisis unfolds, the international community must make its message clear and forthright. The Tigers and the diaspora that supports them have no claim as the “sole representation” of the Tamil people. Nor is secession a reasonable option. Anything more superficial than this firm engagement will play into the hands of the LTTE lobby in the West — and inflame Sinhala nationalists in Sri Lanka. Only this firm message will serve the cause of peace and democracy.
At Moving Images, Moving People! blogger Nalaka Gunawardene says that he wants to believe that the war is truly over:
Sure, there is no independent verification – it has been a war without witnesses for the last few years. But I am willing to take an unusual leap of faith if that’s what it takes to usher in the long-elusive peace. I will go to the ends of the earth, and suspend disbelief if I have to, in return for lasting and meaningful peace.
President Mahinda Rajapaksa is scheduled to address Parliament and the nation on Tuesday morning.