Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam supremo Velupillai Prabhakaran was shot dead on Monday by Sri Lankan special forces as he tried to stage a dramatic breakout from the army encirclement, a military spokesman said.
Prabhakaran and his top aides emerged from their last hiding place in a small convoy, including an ambulance, and tried to drive out of the war zone. They were gunned down, the spokesman said.
The army is withholding an official announcement till a DNA test of the bodies is conducted.
The LTTE chief was killed with two others, who are believed to be his closest associates, LTTE intelligence chief Pottu Amman and Sea Tigers chief Soosoi.
The top LTTE leaders's deaths came a day after the Tamil Tigers conceded defeat, saying the decades-old battle has reached its 'bitter end' and it had decided to 'silence' its guns.
'We remain with one last choice -- to remove the last weak excuse of the enemy for killing our people. We have decided to silence our guns,' LTTE's chief of international relations Selvarasa Pathmanathan said.
On Monday morning, Sri Lankan military spokesman Brigadier Udaya Nanayakkara said that Prabhakaran was still alive, but completely encircled by advancing forces in a tiny jungle area north of Vellamullivaikkal.
The army said its special forces had encircled Prabhakaran, Pottu Aman and Soosoi, who were boxed into a 100 metres x 100 metres area. Prabhakaran's death came as officials confirmed that more than 220 rebels, including the LTTE leader's elder son Charles Anthony, political head Balasingham Nadesan and peace secretariat chief S Pulidevan had been killed in fierce battles in the last 12 hours. Nadesan was a former constable with the Sri Lankan police.
Other slain top LTTE leaders include Black Tigers chief Ramesh, 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.
According to defence sources, Anthony's body was found after an unsuccessful attempt by the Tigers to evacuate their leader's son early on Monday morning.
'This battle has reached its bitter end,' LTTE spokesman Pathmanathan said, adding that 'our only regrets are for the lives lost and that we could not hold out for longer.' The rebels's statement followed President Mahinda Rajapaksa's declaration on Friday in Jordan that the LTTE has been defeated militarily.
'My government, with the total commitment of our armed forces, has in an unprecedented humanitarian operation, finally defeated the LTTE militarily,' Rajapaksa had said.
The over three-decades old conflict for a separate Tamil State, waged by the LTTE, left more than 70,000 dead in pitched battles, suicide attacks, bomb strikes and assassinations.
Prabhakaran was very clear about his demand for an Tamil Eelam and asked his cadres to shoot him if he ever swayed away from it, said one former confidante D Siddharthan, who formed the People's Liberation Organisation of Tamil Eelam after falling out with the LTTE leader.
Siddharthan, along with then LTTE leaders Krishnan and Guhan, opened the first LTTE office in London in the 1970s. Their later enmity became so acute that Prabhakaran ordered his cadres to kill Siddharthan.
The PLOTE leader said Prabhakaran failed to realise the ground realities because of his 'intransigence and lack of understanding of the geo-political reality.'
'Prabhakaran failed to use the military might to benefit the Tamil community. He pushed the Tamils into an abyss,' he said.