Dozens Said Dead in Hospital Attack

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By MARK McDONALD
Tuesday, May 12th, 2009
Hospital After Bombing
HONG KONG — A primary school that had been converted into a field hospital was reported to have been pounded by artillery strikes Tuesday, leaving at least 47 people dead and dozens more wounded.

The hospital is the last remaining medical facility serving civilians in the war zone in Sri Lanka, and it was not immediately clear if it had been demolished.

Confirmations of the shelling and the casualties were given by a government doctor working in the battle zone and by a political official who was quoted on a Web site used by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, or L.T.T.E.

Dr. Thurairaja Varatharajah said a mortar shell hit the admissions ward of the hospital on Tuesday morning, The Associated Press reported, with further shelling taking place several hours later. The doctor put the initial death toll at 49.

His account was similar to one given on the pro-rebel Web site, citing an administrative officer identified as K. Tharmakulasingam, who said 47 people had been killed and 55 wounded.

It has not been possible in recent months to verify the many charges and counter-charges in the bitter war between the government and the Tamil Tigers. Independent journalists and most aid agencies have been barred from the war zone, as well as the camps holding tens of thousands of refugees who have fled the fighting in northern Sri Lanka.

The battle zone has shrunk to barely two square miles — little more than a strand of beachfront, lagoons and coconut groves— as the military has steadily surrounded and slowly squeezed the dwindling guerrilla force.

The L.T.T.E. blamed the army for the artillery barrage Tuesday.

While the government had no immediate comment on the hospital attack, it has denied using artillery, heavy weapons or air strikes in the war zone — a claim widely disputed by human rights groups and foreign governments — and has accused the Tigers of shelling their fellow Tamil citizens.

A Defense Ministry statement said Sri Lankan troops on Tuesday had encountered “stiff resistance backed by heavy artillery and mortar fire” from the L.T.T.E. fighters.

Hundreds of civilians were killed over the weekend, and on Monday a United Nations spokesman described the spiraling crisis as a “bloodbath.” A group of leading relief agencies said both sides had shown a “wanton disregard for human life” in what appears to be the endgame of the 26-year war.

An estimated 50,000 civilians, mostly ethnic Tamils, remain trapped in the battle zone.

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© Copyright 2009 The New York Times Company