March 27, 2008 / 1:05 PM / 12 years ago

Mystery Sri Lanka campaign to discourage suicide bombers

By Rob Taylor

COLOMBO, March 27 (Reuters) - Sri Lanka has launched a mystery poster campaign inviting would-be Tamil Tiger suicide bombers to phone a government helpline in exchange for 10 million rupees ($92,000) and a new life overseas.

"Why should you die with a scattered body?" the red-and-yellow posters, placed in Tamil-dominated areas of the capital, Colombo, asked readers contemplating becoming members of what the rebels call elite "Black Tiger" suicide squads.

"You also were born to live. Why should you carry bombs?" the posters said alongside a fuzzy black-and-white photograph of a suicide bomber’s severed head.

Sri Lanka’s capital and other districts have increasingly been targeted by suicide attacks as the government and military vow to defeat the Tigers by December, pressing home an offensive against northern rebel strongholds.

The military, perhaps wary of scaring off genuine callers with rebel sympathies, said it was unaware of the posters, which invited readers to phone a government-operated 118 line that went unanswered when called by Reuters on Thursday.

Military spokesman Brigadier Udaya Nanyakkara said he did not want to comment on whether the failure to answer was a fatal campaign flaw or whether the line could be swamped by the poor in a nation where average yearly salaries are $2,230.

Police, who with the military man most road corners and major buildings in Colombo, said they were also unaware who placed the posters, which make no mention of a backer other than relying on a government number.

"We do not know who pasted up the poster," said Mangala Dehideniya, in charge of Wellawatta Police where many of the posters were placed.

The posters said Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam leader Vellupillai Prabhakaran should sacrifice his own son before asking others to become suicide bombers.

"Your life is precious and you have only one. Do not die for the brave words of an illusion," the poster read, promising 10 million rupees for genuine callers to build a new life at home or overseas if necessary.

The Tigers are regularly hitting back at the government’s offensive with bloody suicide strikes and roadside bombs increasingly aimed at civilians, escalating a conflict in which an estimated 70,000 people have died since 1983.

In February, a suicide bomber blew themselves up near Colombo’s main port, wounding seven others and spreading body parts around a house in the Modhara quarter during a search and cordon operation by police. ($1=107.79 rupees) (Editing by David Fox)

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