- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 19, 2009

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (Agence France-Presse) — Sri Lankan Tamil Tiger leader Velupillai Prabhakaran, who was killed by soldiers Monday, was feted as a god by his supporters and branded as a ruthless megalomaniac by his opponents.

Few dispute he was one of the most effective guerrilla leaders in modern warfare - displaying the tactical prowess of Afghanistan’s Ahmad Shah Massoud and the ruthlessness of Osama bin Laden.

In three decades of ethnic conflict aimed at carving out a separate Tamil homeland in the north and east, Prabhakaran managed to consolidate a de facto state and - until now - outsmart successive government offensives.

He terrorized the island and even neighboring India, perfecting the recruitment and use of suicide bombers before al Qaeda existed.



His fighters usually took no prisoners, and were notorious for assaults that left every single enemy soldier dead.

He was held responsible for the 1991 assassination of former Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, who in 1987 sent Indian troops to disarm the Tamil Tigers but ended up withdrawing his troops after years of jungle combat.

Prabhakaran’s killing apparatus also claimed the lives of Sri Lankan President Ranasinghe Premadasa in 1993, Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar in 2005 and countless mayors, police officials and army officers.

Interpol described him as a wanted terrorist with a “stout build” who was “very alert, known to use disguise and capable of handling sophisticated weaponry and explosives.”

He made few public appearances, but delivered a “Heroes’ Week” speech each November commemorating dead Tamil fighters.

“We will continue with our struggle until the alien Sinhala occupation of our land is evicted,” he vowed in his final address last year.

Prabhakaran’s Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) had their own army, navy and air force, built up by an international fundraising network and the use of sanctions-busting smugglers on ships and speedboats.

Mr. Sithadthan said Prabhakaran, 54, was neither mellowed by age nor by his family of three children.

“He was the only man in Sri Lanka who could decide if there should be war or peace,” recalled former Tamil guerrilla Dharmalingam Sithadthan, now a politician.

Born on Nov. 26, 1954, in the Tamil heartland of Jaffna, Prabhakaran was a guerrilla fighter for most of his life and presided over a war that has left at least 70,000 dead - roughly a third of whom were his own fighters.

Like the master himself, all LTTE cadres carried a cyanide capsule to commit suicide rather than be captured alive.

Sri Lankan defense officials said he was shot Monday as he tried to escape in a small convoy of vehicles including a van and an ambulance.

It was not the end he had sought.

“A Prabhakaran who fights and goes down will become a legend, at least to his people,” M.R. Narayan Swamy, one of his biographers, said before Monday’s news.

“A Prabhakaran who runs away will be seen differently by even many of those who have supported him.”

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