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20,000 Tamils killed in final war, says Times

By The Rediff News Bureau
May 29, 2009 15:16 IST
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An investigation by The Times, London, has revealed that more than 20,000 Tamil civilians were killed by Sri Lankan armed forces in the final stages of the war against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam.

This number is thrice the number of casualties announced by the Sri Lankan government.

Even as this report came out, Sri Lanka scored a propaganda victory of sorts on Thursday night when the UN Human Rights Council passed a resolution praising its defeat of the Tamil Tigers and condemning the latter for using civilians as human shield.

Although government authorities state that their army stopped using heavy artillery on April 27 and observed the no-fire zone where some 10,000 civilians were trapped in the fighting between the two sides, the London-based newspaper has relied on aerial photographs, official documents, witness accounts and expert testimony to conclude that innocent civilians paid the price in the battle.

The army's final assault in April-end on territory held by the Tigers began with a bar on the world's media and aid organisations.

The Times, however, has accessed confidential United Nations documents that record nearly 7000 civilian deaths in the no-fire zone up till the end of April. UN sources told the paper that the toll surged from this point onwards, and an average of 1000 civilians were killed each day till May 19, the day after the LTTE supremo V Prabhakaran himself was killed by the armed forces.

In fact, a UN source had to say this to The Times about the toll: "Higher. Keep going."

Father Amalraj, a Roman Catholic priest who fled the no-fire zone on May 16, concurred with The Times's casualty figures.

Independent defence analysts who went through the aerial photographs taken by The Times ruled as improbable, given the army and rebel firing positions and the narrowness of the no-fire zone, civilian deaths being caused by LTTE's mortar firing. 'It looks likely that the firing position has been located by the Sri Lankan army and it has then been targeted with air-burst and ground-impact mortars,' Charles Heyman, editor of Armed Forces of the UK, told The Times.

A Sri Lankan high commission spokesperson told the newspaper: "We reject all these allegations. Civilians have not been killed by government shelling at all. If civilians have been killed, then that is because of the actions of the LTTE who were shooting and killing people when they tried to escape."

At the UNHRC discussions, India, China, Egypt and Cuba were among the 29 developing nations that supported Sri Lanka's resolution describing the war with the LTTE as a 'domestic matter that doesn't warrant outside interference.'

The resolution also backed Colombo's insistence that aid groups will be allowed access to 270,000 civilians detained in refugee camps only 'as maybe appropriate'.

Amnesty International called the vote 'extremely disappointing' and 'a low point for the Human Rights Council'. 'It abandoned hundreds of thousands of people in Sri Lanka to cynical political considerations,' Amnesty said.

Tom Porteous, London director of Human Rights Watch, felt the UNHRC had 'failed miserably'.

Switzerland in fact had a resolution rebuking Sri Lanka, but Colombo rushed its own resolution just ahead of it.

Twelve nations, mostly European, opposed Colombo's resolution but their own, calling for free access to civilians and an internal probe into wartime excesses by both sides, could not find many takers.

Navi Pillay, who heads the 47-member UNHRC -- where all are equal and no veto rights for anyone -- on Tuesday called for an international war crimes probe since both sides may be guilty.

Sri Lanka sought to debunk some of the criticism by saying that it will allow access to the refugee camps after a month, when its screening process to detect former Tigers is complete, but as of now reports suggest that no such screening was taking place.

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