(Reuters) - Tamil Tiger political wing leader S.P. Thamilselvan was killed in a Sri Lankan air force bombing raid early on Friday, the rebels said, in what analysts warned was a body-blow to any hope of ending the conflict soon.
Thamilselvan was the rebels' main interlocutor at the last round of peace talks with the Sri Lankan government in October 2006, and was the international face of the separatist group.
Friday's air raids near the de facto rebel capital of Kilinochchi killed five other Tigers and also targeted a camp of elite Black Tiger suicide fighters.
The raids came amid near daily land and sea clashes, ambushes and air strikes that have killed an estimated 5,000 people since early last year alone. Sri Lanka's stock market rose on news of the death of Thamilselvan, the most high profile rebel to be killed in years, closing 0.63 percent higher.
"With deep sorrow we announce to the people of Tamil Eelam, the Tamil people living all over the world and the international community, that at 6 a.m. (0030 GMT) today ... head of our organisation's political wing Brig. S.P. Thamilselvan was killed by the Sri Lankan air force aerial bombing," the rebels said on their Web site www.ltteps.org.
Rebel aide Bawan, who works at Thamilselvan's peace secretariat in Kilinochchi, confirmed the news by telephone. The Tigers said rebel police chief P. Nadesan had been appointed his successor as political wing leader.
Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa, President Mahinda Rajapaksa's brother, welcomed news of the death and said the military would pick off the rest of the Tigers' leaders.
"This is just a message, that we know where their leaders are. I know the locations of all the leaders, that if we want we can take them one by one, so they must change their hideouts," he told Reuters.