Sri Lanka army kills 257 civilians in latest strike against Tamil Tigers

• Doctor says latest assault is bloodiest he has seen

• Sri Lanka military denies shells are being used in territory controlled by Tamil Tigers

French surgeons in Sri Lanka
French surgeons performing surgery in the operation room of the French emergency rescue operation hospital near the northern Sri Lankan town of Cheddikulam. Photograph: Pedro Ugarte/AFP/Getty Images

A massive artillery barrage by the Sri Lankan army last night killed at least 257 civilians and left another 814 wounded in the small strip of territory that remains under the control of Tamil Tiger rebels.

A doctor working in the warzone described the assault as the bloodiest he had seen in the government’s offensive against the Tamil Tigers.

Dr V Shanmugarajah said he feared many more may have been killed since some bodies were being buried on the spot without being brought to the makeshift hospital he runs.

Shanmugarajah described seeing shells fly through the air, with some falling close to the hospital, forcing many to flee to bunkers for shelter.

The rebel-linked TamilNet website said about 2,000 people were feared dead. It accused Sri Lankan forces of launching the attack, a charge the military denied.

Military spokesman Brigadier Udaya Nanayakkara said it was only using small arms in its effort to wipe out the Tamil Tiger rebel group and there “is no shelling taking place”.

The government had sent medical supplies into the warzone in recent days but a shortage of doctors, nurses and helpers has made treatment difficult, Shanmugarajah said.

“We are doing the first aid and some surgeries as quickly as we can. We are doing what is possible. The situation is overwhelming; nothing is within our control,” he said. Shanmugarajah said he had sought the help of volunteers to dig graves.

The government vowed two weeks ago to cease firing heavy weapons into the tiny coastal strip that remained under rebel control in an effort to avoid civilian casualties. But medical officials in the area have reported that air strikes and artillery attacks have continued unabated, despite the presence of an estimated 50,000 civilians in the tiny conflict zone.

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