Friday, June 5, 2009

Sri Lanka says up to 5,000 civilians died in Tigers battle

A senior Sri Lankan official ­today estimated the civilian death toll from the last stages of the war with the Tamil Tigers as 3,000 to 5,000 and defended the use of mortars in a government-designated ­"no-fire zone".

Rajiva Wijesinha, permanent secretary in Sri Lanka's ministry of disaster management and human rights, rejected reports that 20,000 civilians were killed as the army overran the Tigers. He also rejected an unpublished UN report that 7,000 people had been killed by the end of April.

"I would estimate it altogether at 3,000 to 5,000," Wijesinha said in an interview with the Guardian, attributing the deaths to the Tigers' use of refugees as human shields. "The Tigers had prepared this hostage situation and the figures went up very badly," he said, adding that the UN figures had not officially been made public because they had not been verified. "These UN figures I'm afraid are not worth the emphasis that is placed on them."

Sri Lanka has been accused by the UN and western governments of using heavy weapons against a "no-fire zone" it had designated for civilians caught up in the last stages of the conflict on a ­narrow coastal strip in the north-east of the island.

>> Full Story: Guardian