Sri Lanka is seeking to close a bloody era of civil war by declaring total victory over rebels who split the island nation along an ethnic and geographical divide. Just after the country's President pledged to achieve equal rights for all, the nation saw images of the purported corpse of the feared leader of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam.
Sri Lanka's President, Mahinda Rajapaksa, in a nationally televised address to Parliament, formally declared an end to the decades-long civil war. He began his remarks in the Tamil language, recalling that the LTTE, in the last 30 years, killed many people, but contended the Sri Lankan military's fight was not against the Tamil people.

The president said protecting the Tamil-speaking population is his duty and responsibility. Everyone should live in the country equally without fear and suspicion.

Then he switched to the language of the majority Sinhalese, saying political, rather than military, solutions are needed to improve the plight of the Tamil minority.

But the president said Sri Lanka does not have the time to experiment with solutions suggested by other countries and will solve the issue on its own.

Nation sees video of LTTE leader

After the speech, Sri Lankan television repeatedly aired video of a wide-eyed corpse in battle fatigues clearly resembling Velupillai Prabhakaran. It appeared the LTTE founder had been shot in the head.

Some Tamils, despite viewing the images, are expressing doubt the LTTE leader is really dead.

Among them, wholesale supermarket owner Mailvaganam Rajkumar.

"The army commander has confirmed that it is Prabhakaran's body. But still I don't know what is really happening there," he said. "There is a lot of speculation, you see, because the last few days they have said Prabhakaran is gone or is hiding in some place. Still we don't know."

Rebels will be treated with dignity

Government Minister Keheliya Rambukwella, who is the Defense spokesman, says the remains of the once-feared Tamil rebel would be treated with dignity.

"Otherwise you go and wrap it in a piece of paper and throw it to the jungle, no? The undertaker needs to put it in the box because you have a certain amount of decency in life anyway," he said.

Prabhakaran pioneered the widespread use of suicide bombings. He and his cadres targeted Sinhalese, Tamil and Indian politicians for assassination in their ultimately failed quest to achieve an ethnic homeland.

Minister Rambukwella says when he first saw the images of Prabhakaran's corpse he felt regret that such a powerful figure had not chosen the path of peace to solve the island's ethnic conflict.

"If he was directed in the proper channels what an asset he could have been to this land," he said. "But I was happy that he's dead because he had gone beyond the point of no return."

International criticism for both sides of conflict

Many in the international community criticized both sides for their treatment of civilians during the war. It appears thousands of civilians died during this year's final offensive.
The fighting has displaced as many as 300,000 Tamils and returning them to their war-torn communities is the next major challenge Sri Lanka faces.