Sri Lanka Tiger chief not seen as troops close in

April 19, 2009 (AFP) – As Sri Lanka’s decades-long civil war moves into what appears to be a bloody end game, all eyes are on a small strip of coastal jungle, looking for signs of the elusive leader of the Tamil Tigers. The rotund rebel chief Velupillai Prabhakaran, a 54-year-old with decades of experience surviving military onslaughts and political intrigue, has not been seen at the guerrillas’ public functions for nearly 18 months.

In that time he is thought to have commanded his forces from the safety of underground jungle bunkers, and his mystique is likely to continue to hold sway until he is found — dead or alive.

“We can’t find anyone who has seen Prabhakaran recently,” said Dharmalingam Sithadthan, a former associate of the rebel leader who is now the head of a Tamil group allied to the island’s government.

“The army can truly claim victory only after they can show what happened to Prabhakaran. They must either show his body or capture him alive.”

The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) were once seen as one of the world’s most efficient guerrilla outfits, lording over a third of Sri Lanka’s territory and controlling an overseas fund-raising network as well as a lucrative shipping b