Colombo (PTI) LTTE Supremo Velupillai Prabhakaran, who led a ruthless movement for a Tamil Eelam in Sri Lanka that decimated a score of Sinhalese and Tamil leaders and former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, was on Monday killed by the army bringing curtains on the 30-year-old war that has claimed over 70,000 lives.
Prabhakaran, 54, was shot dead by Sri Lankan special forces as he tried to stage a dramatic breakout from the army encirclement, a military spokesman said.
The news of Prabhakaran's death also came along with reports of bodies of his son Charles Anthony and three other top leaders -- Pottu Amman, Soosai and Nadesan being found.
Prabhakaran and his top aides were driving in an armour-plated van accompanied by a clutch of rebels in a bus and approaching the Special Forces. A two-hour exchange of fire followed and the forces fired a rocket at the van brining an end to the battle, army sources said.
Prabhakaran's body was pulled out from the van and identified, they said. Prime Minister Ratnasri Wickramanayake said the army says they have killed him.
"The next step would be the development in the north (Tamil areas)," he said.
Celebrations broke out in the capital here as news spread of the death of Prabhakaran, who led the longest armed struggle in South Asia for nothing less than a separate homeland for Tamils.
Prabhakaran, who had seen many a battle, could not survive the sustained assault from the Sri Lankan forces that began in November last year leading to displacement of the Tigers from their long-held de-facto capital of Kilinochchi and then from Mullaitivu.
Prabhakaran founded the LTTE in the late 1970s and carried out his first political murder against the mayor of Jaffna, Alfred Duraiappah, a fellow Tamil, by shooting him at point blank range while he was about to enter Hindu temple at Ponnaalai.
The LTTE, which was angry over IPKF role in the Tamil areas in the aftermath of the Rajiv Gandhi-Jayawardane accord, assassinated Rajiv Gandhi in Sriperumbudur near Chennai in 1991 during election campaign by a women suicide bomber.
The death of top LTTE leaders came a day after the Tamil Tigers conceded defeat saying the decades-old battle has reached its "bitter end" and they have decided to "silence" their guns.
Earlier in the morning, military spokesman Brigadier Udaya Nanayakkara had said that Prabhakaran was still alive but completely encircled by advancing Sri Lankan forces in a tiny jungle area north of Vellamullivaikkal after most of the LTTE's top leaders were found killed.
The army said that its special forces had encircled Prabhakaran, Pottu Amman and Soosai who were boxed into a 100m x 100m area.
The killing of Prabhakaran came as officials confirmed that more than 220 frontline rebel cadres, including his elder son Charles Anthony, LTTE political head Balasingham Nadesan and LTTE peace Secretariat chief S Pulidevan had been killed in fierce battles in the last 12 hours.
The other top LTTE leaders slain include Black Tigers' chief Ramesh, Tigers' police wing chief Ilango and senior leaders Sundaram and Kapil Amman.
The body of 24-year-old Anthony, chief of LTTE's air wing, was found during mopping up operations in the last rebel-held territory in the no-fire zone on Monday morning, the defence ministry said.
Nadesan, a former constable of Sri Lankan police, was heading the political wing of the Tamil Tigers. S Pulidevan was the head of "LTTE peace secretariat" while S Ramesh was the chief of Black Tigers.
According to the defence sources, the body of Anthony was found after an unsuccessful attempt by the Tamil Tigers to evacuate their leader's son early Monday morning.
Anthony was known to be the head of Information and Technology department of the LTTE.