COLOMBO – Sri Lanka on Monday took the first step toward holding elections in areas formerly held by the rebel Tamil Tigers, who for the first time acknowledged the death of their founder and leader.
Sri Lanka said local government elections would be held in Jaffna and Vavuniya as the first step in turning the military victory into the political accommodation foreign governments have urged since the end of the 25-year civil war last week.
Anusha Palpita, the director of government information, said the government had asked the elections commissioner to organize a vote on August 8 as the first step of restoring democracy in the north. Other ballots may also be held, he said.
Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa has long said his first act after the war would be to hold elections in the north, the same as happened after troops captured the Eastern Province from the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in 2007.
The Tigers had held 15,000 sq km (5,792 sq miles) of northern and eastern Sri Lanka before Rajapaksa's government launched an all-out offensive to wipe them out in August 2006.
Analysts and allies of Rajapaksa expect him to call early presidential elections before the year is out to capitalize on the military victory and secure another six-year term.
Sri Lanka declared total victory over the Tamil Tigers a week ago after killing off its leadership, including Vellupillai Prabhakaran, ending Asia's longest modern war.
The Tigers had until Monday denied their leader was dead.
We announce today, with inexpressible sadness and heavy hearts, that our incomparable leader and supreme commander of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) attained martyrdom fighting the military oppression of the Sri Lankan government on May 17, an emailed LTTE statement said.
The statement was signed by Selvarajah Pathmanathan, the Tigers' diplomatic chief and for years the man in charge of the LTTE's smuggling and weapons acquisitions.
Wanted by Interpol and believed to be in hiding somewhere in southeast Asia, Pathmanathan is the most senior LTTE operative still alive and is expected to take its leadership role.
Sri Lanka meanwhile urged foreign governments to help arrest Pathmanathan and other LTTE operatives abroad. The LTTE has been designated a terrorist organization by more than 30 countries.
They are engaged in terrorist activities and we urge the international community therefore either to take action against them in their countries or hand them to us, Defense Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa said on Ada Derana television late on Sunday.
Prabhakaran had almost single-handedly propelled one of the world's most brutal and intractable wars.
In the end he was killed in a marshy lagoon in the land where he had fought for three decades to establish a separate nation for Sri Lanka's ethnic Tamils.
The military said he had been killed last Monday, but neither it nor the LTTE has given a clear account of his final moments.
But even as Pathmanathan conceded the Tigers founder's death, pro-rebel website www.TamilNet.com on Sunday quoted competing claims of LTTE representatives saying Prabhakaran was alive.