In a major blow to the Sri Lankan rebels, S P Thamilselvan, head of the LTTE's political wing and its public face, was killed in a raid by Sri Lankan Air Force on a gathering of high-profile leaders in the rebel-dominated Kilinochchi in the north of the island nation.
Thamilselvan, who has long headed the political wing of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, had gained in importance after the death of Anton Balasingham, who was a well-known ideologue. He represented the LTTE in negotiations with the government on several occasions.
Before taking on the political role, Thamilselvan, who was in his mid-40s, was an important military figure in the LTTE, especially during the period when the Indian Peace Keeping Force was in Sri Lanka.
According to the Media Centre for National Security, the attack took place this morning just after 0600 hours.
The LTTE's Peace Secretariat website confirmed that Thamilselvan was killed along with Anpumani (Alex), reputed to be an LTTE tech-expert, and three others -- Aadchiveal, Vaakaikakumaran and Mikundhan Neathaji.
Thamilselvan was born in Chavakacheri and reportedly joined the LTTE after the 1983 Colombo riots. At one point, he was the top security personnel of LTTE supremo Vellupillai Prabhakaran.
Thamilselvan, whose wife serves in the women's wing of the LTTE, became the area commander for northern Jaffna during IPKF operations in the late 1980s. In 1993, he suffered shrapnel wound at the Punarin battle which left him with a permanent limp.
In 2001, Thamilselvan narrowly escaped being killed by the Sri Lankan Army's Deep Penetration Unit.
According to analysts, Thamilselvan began to rise in the LTTE hierarchy after the capture of Jaffna city by government forces in the late 1990s.
When Norway began mediating in the peace efforts, he rose in prominence due to the worsening health of Balasingham, the LTTE's international spokesman who led the rebel delegation during peace talks in Geneva.
The LTTE has been fighting since 1983 for an independent homeland for ethnic minority Tamils. More than 70,000 have been killed in the fighting.
Friday's air attack came a day after a series of ground battles in the island's embattled north left over 30 Taml Tigers and two soldiers dead. According to an official statement, Thamilselvan in the past played a pivotal role in a number of attacks on members of the security forces, including the assaults on Kilaly, Muhamale and Nagarkovil Forward Defence Lines, causing heavy losses.
He escaped death twice with injuries during the Kilalay operation on October 13, 1993 and counter-attacks on Yaldevi by the security forces, it said.
The LTTE leader turned partly disable due to those injuries and had reportedly received covert overseas medical treatment after exiting through sea routes, it said.
He also played a prominent role in the 'Elephant Pass' debacle while commanding 'militant groups' way back in July 1991, the statement said.
It claimed that Thamilselvan, as a 'shrewd strategist' threw full weight behind all deadly attacks on Jaffna-based IPKF and security forces beginning 1985, a few months after he joined the LTTE.
Facing international and local media as well as all foreign delegates, he meticulously tried hard to win sympathy for their cause posing before the cameras with a serene smile 'which did not portray his actual soul,' it said.
The slain political head of the LTTE, Thamilselan also visited LTTE leaders in Denmark (October 2003), Norway, Sweden, Germany, Belgium, Switzerland, Ireland, Austria, Finland, Italy, Netherlands and South Africa to canvass support for their cause, the official statement said.