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Didn't underestimate Lanka civilian deaths: UN

June 02, 2009 10:33 IST

United Nations chief Ban Ki-moon on Tuesday 'categorically rejected' the notion that his office 'underestimated' civilian causality figures in the conflict between the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam and the Sri Lankan army, saying the reports about the death of 20,000 people 'did not emanate' from the world body.

Ban reiterated his strong concerns over 'unacceptably high' civilian casualties in the Lankan conflict, while rejecting any figure attributed to the United Nations.

Briefing the General Assembly on his recent visit to Sri Lanka and other countries, Ban said media reports alleging that some 20,000 civilians may have been killed during the last phase of the conflict "do not emanate from the UN and most are not consistent with the information at our disposal."

Last month, Sri Lankas government declared that its military operation against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam was over, ending more than two decades of fighting.

"I categorically reject any suggestion that the United Nations has deliberately under-estimated any figures," the Secretary-General underscored. "Let me also say, whatever the total, the casualties in the conflict were unacceptably high as I have also said repeatedly," he added.

Ban told the Assembly that during his May 22-23 visit to the South Asian island nation, he pressed the government to heed international calls for an inquiry into alleged abuses and underscored the need for full accountability and transparency.

"Any inquiry conducted by the international community would require, first, the full cooperation of the host government, or, second, the support of the UN Member States, expressed through the Human Rights Council, the General Assembly or the Security Council," he said.

At the Human Rights Councils special session on Sri Lanka last week, High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said that investigating abuses allegedly committed against civilians by both the Government and LTTE will help the country transition into a new future.

"There are strong reasons to believe that both sides have grossly disregarded the fundamental principle of the inviolability of civilians," Pillay had stated, with the LTTE being accused of using civilians as human shields and the government reportedly using heavy weapons on the small and densely-populated area of conflict in northern Sri Lanka.

"I stand ready to do whatever we can in the interests of justice, human rights and Sri Lanka's political future," the Secretary-General said in his address to the Assembly. His recent travels have also taken him to Bahrain and Geneva, where he addressed the Conference on Disarmament, which adopted a programme of work last Friday, breaking an impasse that had lasted over a decade.

Ban also expressed his deep concern over the crisis in Pakistan, where two million people had been displaced due to the clashes between the government and militants in May.

"The human suffering is immense," he said, emphasising the need for international support to scale up the response of the international community and the Pakistani government to the situation.

Dharam Shourie in United Nations
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