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New Tamil Tiger head arrested: Sri Lanka military

COLOMBO (Reuters) -- The new head of the Tamil Tigers, the separatist group defeated by the Sri Lankan military after a 25-year war, has been arrested in Thailand, Sri Lanka’s military said on Thursday.

Tamil civilians stand behind a barbed-wire fence as they watch U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon tour their refugee camp called Manik Farm on the outskirts of the northern Sri Lankan town of Vavuniya, May 23, 2009. REUTERS/Louis Charbonneau

Selvarajah Pathmanathan was wanted on two Interpol warrants and took the reins of the remnants of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) after their defeat in May.

“He has been arrested in Bangkok. That is all we know at the moment,” military spokesman Brigadier Udaya Nanayakkara said.

There was no immediate comment from Thai officials.

Pathmanathan, better known as KP during his decades running the LTTE’s arms and smuggling networks, took over as the public leader of the separatist group after Sri Lanka’s military announced victory on May 18 after a 25-year war.

He was the first LTTE official to acknowledge the death of Tiger founder and leader Vellupillai Prabhakaran, who was killed in the closing days of Sri Lanka’s offensive on a narrow spit of northeastern coast where they had surrounded the rebels.

Security experts had long suspected Pathmanathan was hiding in southeast Asia.

A Western diplomat assigned to Sri Lanka met him somewhere in the region earlier this year, part of an effort to persuade the LTTE to surrender in the face of an imminent defeat and free civilians they were holding by force in the war zone.

Pathmanathan was believed to have earned millions of dollars procuring weapons for the Tigers and running smuggling operations from bases across the region including Thailand, Cambodia and Myanmar. Security experts say he had multiple passports.

Some estimates said the LTTE earned between $200-300 million from extortion, weapons sales and drug smuggling. Analysts said part of a brief struggle for Prabhakaran’s mantle after the war was to take control of its financial assets.

After the war, Pathmanathan said the LTTE would try non-violent means to achieve its goal of a separate state for Sri Lanka’s minority Tamils. Among his first initiatives was to try to form a transnational government-in-exile.

Editing by Richard Williams