Colombo: The leader of Sri Lanka's Tamil Tigers, Velupillai Prabhakaran, was shot dead Monday while trying to flee advancing troops, defence officials told AFP.
Prabhakaran was in a small convoy of a van and ambulance along with several close aides which tried to drive out of the battle zone, but was attacked and killed, the senior defence ministry official said.
"He was killed with two others inside the vehicle. There will be a formal announcement later," the official said.
"When the troops opened fire, the van tried to get away, but it was also hit," said another high-level source from the military. "The vehicle caught fire."
The defence ministry said the rebels' leadership was decimated, heralding an end to their decades-old battle to carve out an independent ethnic homeland in the north of the island.
Troops also found the bodies of Prabhakaran's 24-year-old son Charles Anthony, the group's political wing leader B Nadesan, and the head of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) Peace Secretariat, S Pulidevan.
Also reportedly found dead were the LTTE's police chief Ilango, its eastern leader, S Ramesh, and deputy intelligence chief Kapil Amman.
In a dramatic announcement, the guerrillas acknowledged Sunday that their decades-old battle for an independent ethnic homeland had reached its "bitter end" -- signalling Asia's longest running civil war was all but over.
The separatist rebels were once one of the world's most feared guerrilla armies, and ran a de facto mini-state spanning a third of the island before the government began a major offensive two years ago.
"We have decided to silence our guns. Our only regrets are for the lives lost and that we could not hold out for longer," Selvarasa Pathmanathan, the Tigers' chief of international relations, said in a statement.
But his appeals for peace talks -- rather than a surrender -- were flatly rejected by the government, and the defence ministry said soldiers were being sent in to crush the diehard remnants and recapture "every inch of land."
Sri Lanka's hawkish President, Mahinda Rajapakse, will open a new session of parliament Tuesday with an address that will officially mark the ending of the war.
The conflict has left more than 70,000 dead from pitched battles, suicide attacks, bomb strikes and assassinations. The LTTE emerged in the 1970s, with all-out war breaking out in the early 1980s.
The capital Colombo, which has been frequently hit by Tiger suicide attacks over the past quarter century, saw street celebrations which lasted well into Sunday night.
Authorities have been determined to capture, kill or recover Prabhakaran's body amid fears his escape may lead to an attempt to rebuild the LTTE and usher in a new cycle of violence.
The Sri Lankan government's moment of triumph has also come at the cost of thousands of innocent lives lost in indiscriminate shelling, according to the United Nations. The UN's rights body now wants a war crimes probe.
The International Committee of the Red Cross, the only neutral organisation that has been allowed to work in the war zone, has for its part described "an unimaginable humanitarian catastrophe."
But Sri Lanka has shrugged off the international pressure.
"There was no bloodbath as some people feared," Human Rights Minister Mahinda Samarasinghe said. "Everybody has come out safely and they are being looked after by the government."