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Sri Lanka president declares liberation

SRI Lanka's president declared his country "liberated from separatist terror" yesterday as state television broadcast images of the Tamil Tiger rebel leader's body after it was recovered from the battlefield.

But in his victory address to parliament, President Mahinda Rajapaksa appeared to reach out to the minority Tamils, for whom the rebels had said they were trying to carve out a homeland. He also alluded to promises to forge a power-sharing agreement with them.

"Our intention was to save the Tamil people from the cruel grip of the (rebels). We all must now live as equals in this free country," he said, briefly speaking in Tamil.

Meanwhile, TV footage showed a bloated body resembling rebel leader Velupillai Prabhakaran, still dressed in a dark green camouflage uniform, laid out on a stretcher on the grass. A blue cloth rested on top of his head, apparently to cover a bullet wound. His open eyes stared straight up.

The government said Prabhakaran's body was later identified by Vinayagamoorthi Muralitharan, a former rebel commander who defected from the group and is now a government minister.

Defense spokesman Keheliya Rambukwella said the government might conduct a DNA test as well. He declined to reveal what the plans were for the disposal of the body.

The death of Velupillai Prabhakaran, the unquestioned leader of the Tamil Tigers, would make it far more difficult for the rebel movement to re-form and continue its nearly three decade separatist war.

Speaking before the announcement, a rebel official abroad denied Prabhakaran was killed and said he was in a safe place.

With the war on the northern battlefields over, Rajapaksa delivered a victory address to parliament early yesterday.

Recounting how the rebels, known formally as the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, once controlled a wide swath of the north and east, Rajapaksa said that for the first time in 30 years, the country was unified under its elected government.

"Our motherland has been completely liberated from separatist terrorism," he said, declaring today a national holiday.

"We must find a homegrown solution to this conflict. That solution should be acceptable to all the communities," he said. He also called upon Sri Lankans - especially Tamils - who fled the country to return and help it rebuild.

The war killed more than 70,000 people over the past quarter-century. Another 265,000 ethnic Tamils were displaced in the recent offensive.


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