The elusive leader of Sri Lanka's Tamil Tiger rebels yesterday paid his respects to his slain deputy and five others who died in a government air raid, as security was stepped up across the island.
Velupillai Prabhakaran honored S.P. Thamilselvan, head of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam's (LTTE) political wing, at an undisclosed location inside rebel-held territory, a rebel spokesman said.
"Our national leader paid his respects to Mr. Thamilselvan, and he will be making a statement very soon on this incident," Rasiah Ilanthiriyan said by satellite telephone from the rebel-held north.
The Tiger rebels were holding funerals yesterday for five other of their senior members killed in Friday's air strike near the rebel capital Kilinochchi, the rebels said.
"The other bodies are in an advanced state of decomposition, and we are arranging to have those funerals today," Ilanthiriyan said earlier.
Thamilsevan's funeral will be held tomorrow, he said.
Meanwhile, the rest of the island was on a heightened state of alert over fears of revenge attacks against military or civilian targets in government-held areas.
Traffic along the main highway linking the capital and the international airport was held up as police and heavily armed troops carried out search operations on vehicles and people entering the capital.
Motorists said they were held up for several hours trying to enter the city, while police said search operations were conducted to look for any guerrillas who may try to infiltrate the city of 650,000 people.
The defense ministry also reported ongoing fighting along the de facto border with the mini-state run by the guerrillas in the north of the island.
It claimed two more guerrillas were killed on Friday and that a it had captured a line of bunkers from the rebels near an irrigation reservoir.
The guerrillas denied losing territory to government forces.
No independent verification of the claims was available.
Thamilselvan was the highest-ranking member of the LTTE to be killed by government forces in the 35-year separatist campaign and his death has been seen as a major setback to the Tamil separatists.
The defense ministry said it had targeted a venue where rebel leaders were meeting and scored a direct hit.
The LTTE immediately declared three days of mourning and named Thamilselvan a brigadier, the highest rank that was conferred posthumously to any guerrilla by Prabhakaran since the group's formation in 1972.
Prabhakaran, who turns 53 on Nov. 26, named his police chief, P. Nadesan, as new leader of the LTTE's political wing, Ilanthiriyan said.
Nadesan, a police defector who joined the Tigers and later became a member of the Tiger peace negotiating team, will continue his work with the Tiger police unit as well, Ilanthiriyan said.