Sri Lanka: army accused of killing hundreds of Tamil civilians
Sri Lankan shelling “kills 257” (BBC News, 10 – V – 2009)
Sri Lankan government forces have been accused of killing dozens of Tamil civilians in a night of shelling in the country’s northern war zone.
The pro-rebel Tamilnet website and government health officials said 257 civilians were killed and 814 hurt.
But the Sri Lankan military denied that any shelling had taken place.
The Tamil Tiger rebels and the military regularly accuse each other of atrocities in the civil conflict – claims that are impossible to verify.
Foreign reporters are banned from the war zone.
The Tamilnet website reported that heavy shelling had started late on Saturday and continued into Sunday.
It said doctors in a makeshift hospital in Vanni district had taken in 814 wounded people, and cited one doctor as saying 257 people had been killed.
The injured told the doctors “dead bodies are scattered everywhere”, according to the site.
The BBC’s Charles Haviland, in Colombo, said health officials confirmed that 257 people had died.
They said two hospitals were struggling to cope with the casualties, and that people were hiding in bunkers and many makeshift tents had been burnt.
They added that among those killed was a government nursing officer.
But the military denied the allegations.
Sri Lankan defence spokesman Keheliya Rambukwella told the BBC the accounts were “propaganda” of the Tamil Tigers and that there had been neither shelling nor air attacks on the civilian zone.
“That is a fact,” he said.
He said the guerrillas were “holding people to ransom” in their area, and accused the rebels of killing nine civilians who were trying to escape their zone on Saturday.
The UN estimates that about 50,000 civilians are trapped by the conflict.
The Tamil Tigers have fought for an independent homeland for Sri Lanka’s Tamil minority since 1983.
More than 70,000 people have been killed in the war.
Doctor claims government shelling has killed up to 1,000 civilians in Sri Lanka (Times Online, 11 – V – 2009)
Jeremy Page, South Asia Correspondent
Two days of heavy shelling of a supposed safe haven inside Sri Lanka’s war zone has killed at least 430 civilians — and possibly as many as 1,000 — a government doctor in the area said today.
The United Nations described the bombardment as a bloodbath, saying that it had killed more than 100 children, but stopped short of apportioning blame for what would be one of the worst atrocities of the war between the Government and the Tamil Tiger rebels.
The Government says that it stopped shelling or bombing the area three weeks ago and accuses the Tigers of mortaring the civilians to force them to move into another area where they can continue to act as human shields for the rebels.
The army has pinned down the last of the Tigers in a 2.3 sq mile (6 sq km) strip of land on the northeastern coast, along with an estimated 50,000 civilians, and appears likely to defeat the rebels after 26 years of civil war.
It says that the doctor, V. Shanmugarajah, has been either indoctrinated or intimidated by the Tigers. Verifying information from either side is impossible as the Government has banned most independent reporters from the frontline.
However, UN officials said that the doctor’s testimony had been reliable in the past and that their information also indicated that there had been a massive artillery raid on Saturday and Sunday on the “no-fire zone” where the civilians are sheltering.
“We’ve been warning for weeks that there would be a bloodbath if this situation persisted, and now there has been one,” Gordon Weiss, the UN spokesman in Colombo, told The Times.
Diplomats in Colombo said that the raid may indicate that the army is about to make its final assault on the Tigers, despite repeated international calls for a humanitarian pause in the fighting to allow the civilians to escape.
“I think this could all be over within three to four days,” one diplomat said.
Gotabaya Rajapaksa, the Defence Secretary and the President’s brother, has said that the army could make a major breakthrough in the next 48 hours, according to the Defence Ministry website.
“We are in the final stage of our offensive and there is absolutely no way the Tigers can get out of this trap,” he is quoted as saying.
He also said that the Government had set up a new no-fire zone covering the area where the civilians are now believed to be gathered in one group.
Lieutenant-General Sarath Fonseka, the army chief, was quoted as saying that the Tigers opened fire on 1,000 civilians on Saturday as they tried to flee to army-controlled territory.
“They are bombarding their own civilians with heavy weapons to lay the blame on the Sri Lankan forces,” the Defence Ministry said in a statement.
“Hopefully, in their calculation, this will attract the foreign countries to throw a lifeline to save their souls.”
The Government said that the Tigers’ shelling had killed or wounded 250 civilians. The pro-rebel Tamilnet website blamed the shelling on the army and said that it had killed 3,200.
- “Sri Lanka: repeated shelling of hospitals evidence of war crimes. 30 attacks reported on medical facilities since December” (Human Rights Watch news, 8 – V – 2009)
- “Sri Lanka: satellite images, witnesses show shelling continues. UN Security Council fails to act while civilians suffer” (Human Rights Watch news, 12 – V – 2009)
- “UN Security Council must act to save civilians in Sri Lanka” (Amnesty International news, 13 – V – 2009)
- “Sri Lanka: Government and LTTE must heed demands from UN Security Council” (Amnesty International news, 14 – V – 2009)
- “Sri Lanka: Urgent need for human rights protection” (Amnesty International news, 18 – V – 2009)
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