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Sri Lanka: Can Tamil Tigers go on without their leader?

The military said it shot dead Vellipulai Prabhakaran Monday, a day after the rebels admitted defeat in their 26-year war.

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But after the peace process broke down in 2006, President Mahinda Rajapakse made annihilating Tamil Tiger rebels its priority. He hiked the island's military budget to $1.7 billion for the 2009 fiscal year, nearly 5 percent of the gross domestic product. He also intensified recruitment of soldiers across the island and re-recruited war deserters by granting them amnesty if they returned to the frontlines.

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Mr. Rajapakse claimed his actions were necessary given his enemy was one of the world's fiercest armed separatist group.

In recent months, the LTTE suffered severe reverses in the battlefield as the military hemmed rebels into an ever shrinking sliver of land on the eastern coast. On Sunday LTTE official Selvarasa Pathmanathan admitted in a statement that "the battle has reached its bitter end" and that group had "decided to silence our guns."

The military has trumpeted its success in the 26-year war. "Sri Lankan armed forces have militarily defeated the LTTE and freed the nation from three decades of terror," Lt. Gen. Sarath Fonseka, the head of the Sri Lankan Army said in a statement issued on the island nation's defense website.

Next steps

The main challenge now, analysts say, is to work out a negotiated settlement for Sri Lanka's Tamil community, who make up 18 percent of the population, and on whose behalf the Tamil Tigers claim to be fighting.

"The military phase of the war will end soon, and Sri Lanka will witness a post-conflict phase," says Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu, executive director of the Colombo-based Centre for Policy Alternatives. "Now work must begin to give Tamils must be given democratic space."

The Sri Lankan government has yet to announce a blueprint for such a negotiated settlement with Tamils.

"Only after the dust of the LTTE's military defeat settles will the Sri Lankan Tamil community get an opportunity to assess where it is, the nature and extent of the political space available, and what shape its politics could take," says Jayadeva Uyangoda, the head of the political science department at Colombo University.

Meanwhile, Sri Lanka's humanitarian crisis continues to raise international concern. More than 250,000 people people have fled from the war zone since January – 25,000 of these since mid-May alone. Mr. Saravanamuttu says concerns remain whether the country is equipped to handle the pouring out of such an overwhelming number of displaced people.

On Monday, the European Union called for an independent investigation into the alleged war crimes committed by both sides in recent months of fighting.

Questions also remain over whether remaining rebels could wage a low-level insurgency in Sri Lanka.

Even if so, it may not be a realistic threat if the LTTE's top-rung leadership has been wiped out in the current phase of fighting, says Saravanamuttu. "LTTE without its leadership can't do very much."

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