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Tamil Tiger Political Chief Killed in Sri Lanka Strike

Agence France-Presse

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S.P. Thamilselvan, 40, the public face of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, died with five others in an attack by the Sri Lankan air force on rebel-held territory, the Tigers reported.

He was the highest-ranking member of the LTTE to be killed by government forces in the 35-year separatist campaign.

The defence ministry said it had targeted a venue where rebel leaders were meeting and scored a direct hit, taking out the highest-ranking guerrilla to be killed in three and a half decades of fighting.

The LTTE immediately declared three days of mourning and named Thamilselvan a brigadier, the highest rank conferred posthumously to any guerrilla by elusive supremo Velupillai Prabhakaran since the group's formation in 1972.

Thamilselvan, who led a peace-negotiating team at talks with the Sri Lankan government that were hosted by Switzerland last year, had emerged as a de facto number two in the LTTE.

The Sri Lankan air force had several times ferried him from rebel- held territory to the international airport to attend peace talks between September 2002 and October last year.

A further and last round of talks led by Thamilselvan in October 2006 ended in failure and led to more bloodshed in the fight for a Tamil homeland that has left tens of thousands dead since 1972.

Military officials said Friday they had received a report of a top- level gathering near the northern town of Kilinochchi, the political capital of the LTTE where Thamilselvan was based, and ordered the air raids.

"We had information about a high-level gathering and it was after that the jets were sent to bomb the area," a military source here said.

"Sri Lanka air force jet fighters targeted with air strikes Thiruvaiaru, south of Kilinochchi, a venue where LTTE leaders gathered at 6:00 am today," the defence ministry said in a statement before the LTTE announcement.

Later, the ministry said "pin-point" bombing took out Thamilselvan and five others.

"The killing of Thamilselvan is a big blow to the LTTE politically," said former Tamil militant turned political leader Dharmalingam Sithadthan. "It is also a big morale booster for the air force after their big loss last month."

Tamil Tiger rebels staged a devastating attack against a key air base on October 22 and wiped out virtually the entire fleet of spy planes, inflicting the biggest single loss on the air force.

He had also been an active combatant who was injured while leading an offensive on an army camp in 1993 and survived a 2002 bomb attack said to have been carried out by Sri Lankan security forces.

"(The) head of our organisation's political division, Brigadier S.P. Thamilselvan, was killed by the Sri Lankan Air Force aerial bombing," the LTTE said in a statement.

The guerrillas named five other victims of Friday's strike, including a senior LTTE photographer who had travelled to Europe, Thailand and Japan with Thamilselvan to attend Norwegian-brokered peace talks since 2002.

Thamilselvan's killing follows the death of former chief negotiator Anton Balasingham last December.

He had been an understudy of Balasingham - the key contact for Norwegian peacebrokers - who died of cancer at his home in London.


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