A top Tamil Tiger leader on Wednesday defended the use of suicide bombers against Sri Lankan security forces, as the rebels held street parades during an annual memorial for suicide cadres who died while fighting for a separate homeland.

Every July 5, the rebels honor members of a special suicide squad, known as the Black Tigers, who are a key part of their struggle for an independent state for the country's 3.2 million ethnic Tamil minority.

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According to latest figures released by the rebels, 273 Black Tigers have died in suicide missions since 1987.

"There are many groups in the world using suicide bombers but the methods of our Black Tigers are more effective and incredible," rebel official Yogaratnam Yogi said in a speech on the rebel radio Voice of Tigers. A transcript of his speech was published on pro-rebel Web sites.

"Many countries in the world fear Black Tigers. Anxious that other groups may emulate them, these countries ridicule the cadres and are bent on creating a bad opinion against them," Yogi said referring to widespread criticism against the group for using human bombs.

"War itself is violent. There are no soft methods in it. Weren't bombs made to blow up and kill men? so why there is such a cry if only a man becomes a human bomb?" he said.

The Tigers launched their first suicide attack on July, 5, 1987, when a rebel drove a truck loaded with explosives into a military camp in northern Jaffna peninsula killing scores of soldiers.

In Kovilporativu, an impoverished, rebel-controlled village of eastern Batticaloa district, about 225 kilometers (140 miles) east of the capital Colombo, some 400 people led by 30 mothers of suicide bombers and Tiger cadres carrying rifles took part in a parade across the village.

A float carried portraits of fallen Black Tigers, prominently displaying a cutout of a uniformed guerrilla with a grenade tied to his neck.

A memorial was later unveiled by Batticaloa's Tamil Tiger military wing leader Bhanu, at a public ground decorated with red and yellow, the rebel colors.

In Colombo, soldiers in combat gear were posted at most intersections and buildings considered potential targets. Vehicles were being checked at random. In the past, the guerrillas have launched devastating attacks on the capital to mark the anniversary.

Increasing violence between a new government and the rebels threatens to break a 2002 cease-fire that ended almost two decades of bloody civil war.

In the Tamil heartland of Jaffna, university students commemorated the Black Tigers at a ceremony held inside the university premises, where they raised the rebel flag.

Victims of suicide bombings have included former Sri Lankan President Ranasinghe Premadasa, former Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, and numerous Sri Lankan ministers and senior politicians.

Another former Sri Lankan president, Chandrika Kumaratunga, narrowly survived a suicide attack in 1999.

In the latest suicide bombing blamed on the rebels, on June 26, an attacker on a motorcycle rammed into a car carrying Sri Lanka's third-highest ranking military officer, Maj. Gen. Parami Kulatunga, killing himself, the general and three other people.