Ilankai Tamil Sangam

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Sri Lankan Airstrike Kills Tamil Political Leader

by Somini Sengupta and Graham Bowley, International Herald Tribune, November 2, 2007

Losing the chief rebel negotiator perhaps has less significance than anytime in the recent past. The two sides are in no mood for negotiations and for over a year have marched headlong into war.

The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam suffered a targeted attack against their most prominent international representative on Friday when the head of their political wing, S. P. Tamilselvan, was killed in an airstrike by the Sri Lankan military, according to the guerrilla group.

The Tamil Tigers announced his death, along with five associates, in a press release.

The Sri Lankan military said Tamilselvan had been killed in air force strikes on a Tamil Tiger controlled area called Thirivearu, near the rebel garrison of Kilinochhi, where the military said senior rebel leaders had gathered for a meeting. There was no independent verification available of exactly when he was killed, or where.

The killing further ratcheted up the stakes in Sri Lanka's renewed quarter-century long ethnic conflict between the majority ethnic Sinhalese-dominated government and the rebels, also known as the LTTE. For more than a year, a series of open military attacks and counterattacks, suicide bombings and mysterious abductions has left no pretense that a 2002 cease-fire agreement still holds.

Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu, executive director of the nonpartisan Center for Policy Alternatives, said by telephone from the Sri Lankan capital, Colombo, that the assassination, having demonstrated the government's "determined intent to prosecute a war and defeat the LTTE," would equally vindicate the hard-liners on the rebel side.

"They are now the mirror image of each other in every respect," he said of the two sides. "They are both in zero sum mode. I would imagine the LTTE will want to hit back."

The killing of Tamilselvan comes barely a week after a so-called Black Tiger suicide squad penetrated a military base in the central Sri Lankan city of Anuradhapura, killing 13 soldiers and destroying several military jets.

Tamilselvan was the highest ranking Tamil Tiger official authorized to meet with foreign journalists and diplomats, always with a famously long-winded official Tamil Tiger interpreter, until the Sri Lankan government effectively blocked foreigners from crossing from government to rebel-held territory last year. He walked with a limp, with the aid of a cane, since a 1993 battle injury.

Tamilselvan had also become chief negotiator for the rebel side since the group's self-described ideologue, Anton Balasingham, fell ill and then died, of cancer, last December. The assassination of Tamilselvan leaves the organization with no internationally known figure, except its elusive leader, Vellupillai Prabhakaran.

Losing the chief rebel negotiator perhaps has less significance than anytime in the recent past. The two sides are in no mood for negotiations and for over a year have marched headlong into war.

After four years of lull, heavy fighting began in earnest in July 2006, with a battle for the country's multiethnic east. The government has continued its headlong march into war, despite stepped-up pressure on the government from abroad, including from the United States, one of Colombo's key allies.