Posts Tagged ‘Tamil Tiger rebels’

Ban Ki Moon gives in over Sri Lanka war

June 6, 2009

The Times/UK, June 6, 2009

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon
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Michael Evans and Catherine Philp

The UN Secretary-General caved in to demands to brief the Security Council on his trip to Sri Lanka yesterday after calls mounted for an international war crimes inquiry into the fighting this year.

Ban Ki Moon was to address the Security Council in a closed-door session last night after Russia and China failed to keep Sri Lanka off the council’s agenda.

The briefing came as the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights reiterated calls for an independent investigation into alleged war crimes committed by both sides and pledged the UN’s support for such an inquiry.

Sri Lanka’s Foreign Minister, Rohitha Bogollagama, angrily rejected allegations of wrongdoing after last week’s revelations in The Times that more than 20,000 civilians were believed to have died in the island’s so-called no-fire zone, most of them from Sri Lankan army shelling.

“Within the no-fire zone we never returned fire because we would never have taken that degree of chance for inflicting harm on civilians,” he told The Times on a visit to London yesterday. “Nothing could have provoked us to fire on civilians.”

Mr Bogollagama blamed all civilian deaths on Tamil Tiger rebels, upholding accounts by refugees who said that they were fired on by the rebels while fleeing, but discounting the same witnesses when they talked of deaths from government shelling. He strenuously maintained the Government’s line that not one single civilian died as a result of army action.

Last month the UN calculated that the civilian death toll was more than 7,000 by the end of April, a figure that was passed on to foreign missions, including Britain and the US. UN sources in Colombo later told The Times that the final toll was probably more than 20,000.

Mr Bogollagama dismissed both sets of figures, claiming that the UN had “apologised to the Sri Lankan Government” for releasing figures that “create a hype so that the international community would intervene”.

Sir John Holmes, the UN Under-Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs, told The Times this week that the civilian toll was “unacceptably high” and urged Sri Lanka to launch a proper investigation.Sri Lanka has refused to allow free access to camps where 270,000 Tamils are interned until it has finished screening those held there for links to the Tamil Tigers.

Sri Lanka’s Foreign Secretary, Palitha Kohona, warned yesterday that the screening process could be lengthy, saying that it was “quite likely” that even many elderly people were “with the LTTE [the Tamil Tigers], at least mentally”. The Government said yesterday that a group of government doctors who worked in the no-fire zone would be investigated on charges of collaborating with the rebels for relating news of civilian casualties to the media.

During the final phase of the war, the doctors reported on thousands killed in government shelling, including at a makeshift hospital.

The doctors were arrested as they fled the zone with thousands of Tamil civilians in the last day of the offensive and have been in detention since. The United States has said that they “helped save many lives” while the UN called them “heroic”.

Mahinda Samarasinghe, the country’s Human Rights Minister, told the BBC the doctors would be brought to trial next year. “I don’t know what the investigations would reveal but maybe they were even part of that whole conspiracy to put forward this notion that government forces were shelling and targeting hospitals and indiscriminately targeting civilians,” he said.

Mr Holmes said that the Government’s aggressive posture raised legitimate fears about their commitment to reconciliation with the Tamil community.

Death Toll Continues to Rise in Sri Lanka

March 2, 2009

The Associated Press, March 1, 2009

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka – At least 10 Sri Lankan civilians were killed and dozens more wounded Sunday when artillery shells fell inside a government-designated “safe zone” in the heart of Tamil Tiger rebel territory, a health official said.

[Mumbai's Tamil community members hold placards during a protest rally in Mumbai, India, Sunday, March 1, 2009, demanding a cease-fire in Sri Lanka. (AP Photo/Rajanish Kakade)]Mumbai’s Tamil community members hold placards during a protest rally in Mumbai, India, Sunday, March 1, 2009, demanding a cease-fire in Sri Lanka. (AP Photo/Rajanish Kakade)

Government forces have driven the rebels from most of their strongholds in recent months and have boxed them into a tiny coastal territory in the northeast. A 7.5-mile (12-kilometer) -long “safe zone” serves as a haven for tens of thousands of civilians trapped inside rebel territory. Dr. Thurairaja Varatharajah said six people died at a makeshift hospital inside rebel territory, and he saw four more bodies scattered among the huts of displaced people.

He said 48 wounded civilians were also admitted to the hospital, which he runs out of a school. Many of the victims suffered burns from the exploding shells, Varatharajah said.

It was unclear who fired the shells. Varatharajah said they appeared to have come from an area where government forces are stationed.

The military and rebels did not comment. Government officials have repeatedly denied targeting civilians.

Humanitarian groups estimate that 200,000 people are trapped in the fighting zone and face the risk of being caught in the crossfire.

Top United Nations humanitarian officials urged the rebels Friday to allow civilians to flee the fighting, saying there are “credible reports” that some people trying to leave have been shot.

Tamil Tiger rebels have fought since 1983 to create an independent state for ethnic minority Tamils, who have suffered marginalization by successive governments controlled by ethnic majority Sinhalese.

More than 70,000 people have been killed in the violence.

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