Velupillai Prabhakaran's 26-year-long struggle to establish a separate homeland for the Tamil people of Sri Lanka ended in smoke when the Tamil Tigers' last bastions were overrun. The coup de grace happened on May 18 when the Sri Lankan military reported that Prabhakaran and his loyal deputies had been found dead. The 54-year-old guerrilla leader, who transformed a small band of poorly armed rebels into one of the world's most sophisticated and ruthless insurgencies, lived according to the words of the Cuban fisherman Santiago in Ernest Hemingway's The Old Man and the Sea: "A man can be destroyed, but not defeated." Prabhakaran has been destroyed but not defeated since his legend will live on. Sri Lankan TV showed the corpse of the man who plunged the Indian Ocean island nation into one of the world's most intractable wars, his eyes open, face bloated, and part of the top of his head blown off. The military declared total victory over the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), putting Sri Lanka completely back under government rule for the first time since the war erupted in the early 1980s. Sri Lanka has been embroiled in a deadly civil war between the Hindu Tamil separatist minority led by Prabhakaran and the Buddhist Sinhalese majority since 1983. The civil war broke out after anti-Tamil riots staged by extremists of the Sinhalese community, who make up about 74 percent of the population, against about 3.5 million Tamils in the country of 19.5 million. The Tamils were killed in large numbers just for being Tamils. The riots alienated the Tamil population from the Sinhalese majority. It was the beginning of the rise of the LTTE. The Tamil Tigers took up arms in hopes of creating a Tamil homeland they called Eelam. The military actions against the Tigers from 1983 to 1987 fuelled further violence and the movement developed into a full-fledged insurgency, with the Tamil guerrillas' operations eventually escalating into a civil war. It is believed that at least 70,000 people died in the 26-year ethnic conflict. Many countries, in particular Iran, India, Pakistan, Japan, Libya, and Russia, helped Sri Lanka defeat the Tamil Tiger insurgency, but it was China that played a key role in bringing the civil war to an end in the Pearl of the Indian Ocean. China, which is building a $1 billion port in the Sri Lankan town of Hambantota that it plans to use as a refuelling and docking station for its navy, has provided financial assistance, arms, and diplomatic support to Sri Lanka to help end the ethnic turmoil. However, a number of Western countries, and especially Britain, which actually created this painful ethnic conflict through its policy of divide and rule, showed rank hypocrisy by reciting the "ceasefire" mantra when the military closed in on the rebels' strongholds and Sri Lankan forces were on the verge of victory. "Never did history unmask the hypocrisy and the sanctimony of the Western powers than (it has in) their behaviour towards Sri Lanka during recent times," the Sri Lankan Defence Ministry recently said in statement. In order to avoid another armed insurgency, Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapakse should now address the grievances of the long-suffering Tamil people instead of making victory speeches in the Parliament and basking in triumphalism. And his government must provide relief to the worst suffering quarter of a million Tamils - shelterless, hungry, panicked, grieved - who were trapped on the island's northern beaches, if Sri Lanka wants to prevent an unprecedented humanitarian catastrophe. Now is the time for reconciliation, not triumphalism. This is the only way for Sri Lanka to move forward. The writer is a Pakistani journalist based in Tehran