Tue, Nov 28, 2006 - Page 5 News List

Tigers mark end of `Hero's Week' and leader's birthday

AP , COLOMBO

Tamil Tigers and bereaved families lit lamps and garlanded portraits of fallen fighters in rebel-held parts of Sri Lanka to mark the end of "Hero's Week" yesterday, as the rebels' reclusive leader prepared to make his annual policy speech.

Velupillai Prabhakaran's highly anticipated speech comes amid an undeclared civil war that has virtually destroyed a 2002 ceasefire with the government.

The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam -- which says it is fighting to create a separate homeland for Sri Lanka's 3.2 million ethnic minority Tamils -- commemorates its fallen fighters and marks the birthday of its top leader every year on Nov. 27.

Prabhakaran's annual speech is watched by Sri Lankan and international observers to try to determine the rebels' next move.

There was speculation that Prabhakaran could declare an official end to the Norway-brokered ceasefire.

Such a pessimistic outlook comes just a year after Prabhakaran offered a glimmer of hope to supporters of the peace process. Just days after the election of hard-line President Mahinda Rajapakse, the Tamil Tiger leader used his annual speech last year to praise the president as a "realist, committed to pragmatic politics." He also promised to delay an "intensified struggle for self determination" despite complaining that the peace process had yielded little for Tamils.

Any hopes that peace would return to Sri Lanka, however, soon ended with a series of mysterious abductions, assassinations and bomb blasts.

More than 3,500 fighters and civilians have died in aerial bombings, assassinations, bomb attacks and daily skirmishes, according to government figures.

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