COLOMBO, Sri Lanka – Sri Lanka's separatist Tamil Tiger rebels celebrated 20 years of suicide bombings Thursday, but the festivities did not include large gatherings due to fears of government airstrikes, a rebel spokesman said.
Plays, music and speeches were organized in many rebel-held northern parts of Sri Lanka, and a children's park was opened in Kilinochchi town in memory of the suicide bombers, called Black Tigers, said spokesman Rasiah Ilanthirayan.
"There is no mass gathering in one place because of the air threat — but there are separate celebrations in all the villages," Ilanthirayan said.
He said suicide bombers' portraits were placed in small cottages for people to honor them with garlands and other signs of respect.
The Tigers' first suicide bomber, known as Captain Miller, drove a truckload of explosives into an army camp in northern Jaffna peninsula, killing himself and 40 soldiers on July 5, 1987.
Since then, 322 rebels — 49 in the past year — have blown themselves up in the hope of eventually winning an independent homeland for Sri Lanka's ethnic minority Tamils, Ilanthirayan said.
The Tigers' suicide attacks have killed a number of high-profile leaders, including former Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, former Sri Lankan President Ranasinghe Premadasa and scores of other politicians and military officials.
The Tigers have fought the government since 1983 to create an independent homeland for the Tamils, who have faced discrimination by Sri Lanka's successive majority Sinhalese-controlled governments.
Suicide attacks both at sea and land, clashes and air strikes have killed more than 5,000 people in the past 20 months, rendering a 2002 Norway-brokered cease-fire all but meaningless.
Neither side has officially withdrawn from the internationally backed agreement, fearing isolation.
More than 70,000 people have been killed in over two decades of fighting.