Sri Lanka Denies Tamil Civilians Killed, Cites Rebel Propaganda

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By Paul Tighe and Jay Shankar
Monday, May 11th, 2009
BBC 10 May 2009
May 11 (Bloomberg) -- Sri Lanka denied reports that at least 1,200 Tamil civilians were killed in artillery shelling in the north and accused the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam of mounting a propaganda campaign to win international sympathy.

Civilians came under artillery and rocket attack by the army at the weekend in the government-declared security zone on the northeastern coast, TamilNet, a Web site that gives reports from the Tamil perspective, said yesterday. The air force carried out bombing raids yesterday, it said.

Sri Lanka’s government denies the “fabricated stories, which have already been published on pro-LTTE Web sites, solely for capturing the sympathy of the international community and also to tarnish the image” of the government and the military, the Defense Ministry said in a statement today.

The Tamil Tigers are holding out with about 300 remaining fighters in the security zone near the port of Mullaitivu and are preventing an estimated 20,000 civilians from leaving, according to the military. The LTTE, which has fought for 26 years for a separate Tamil homeland in the South Asian island nation, accuses the government of refusing to allow aid to reach as many as 165,000 civilians in the north.

The United Nations estimates about 50,000 people are trapped in the conflict zone and 250,000 displaced people are in need of food and medical supplies in the north.

In Hiding

LTTE leaders are “hiding among the innocent civilians held hostage in the no-fire zone,” the Defense Ministry said. While security forces rescued more than 116,000 civilians from rebel- held territory since April 20, the LTTE fired on people trying to leave, it said.

Rescue workers counted 1,200 bodies in the Mullaitivu safe zone after shelling ended yesterday morning, TamilNet reported yesterday. It said earlier as many as 2,000 civilians may have been killed.

“The Tamil people are dismayed that the United Nations and the international community have failed in their obligations to protect” civilians, Selvarasa Pathmanathan, the LTTE’s head of international relations, said in a statement yesterday, carried by TamilNet. “We only ask for an impartial relief effort similar to those extended to other conflict zones by the UN.”

Human Rights Watch, in a May 9 report, said army shells and aerial strikes had hit hospitals more than 30 times. Aid and hospital workers, as well as patients, provided information about the incidents, the New York-based group said.

Under Attack

“Panic-stricken LTTE terrorists continuously directed mortars and heavy machine guns upon the civilians in the no-fire zone to pressure them and prevent them from deserting the LTTE,” the Defense Ministry said.

Outside observers are barred from the conflict zone and accounts from the region are difficult to verify.

The LTTE’s remaining forces are trapped in an area of less than 6 square kilometers (2.3 square miles) in the security zone, according to the military. The government says it is pursuing the army offensive to rescue the 20,000 civilians being held by the LTTE.

Velupillai Prabhakaran, the LTTE leader, is with his forces, Daya Master, the group’s spokesman, said after being captured by the army on April 22.

The LTTE said its military spokesman Irasiah Punitharooban, known as Ilanthirayan, was wounded early yesterday in the artillery barrages, according to TamilNet. The Defense Ministry said he later died, citing pro-LTTE Web sites. The deputy commander of the Sea Tigers, the LTTE’s naval unit, was killed in the security zone on May 7, according to the ministry.

The LTTE, which at one time had an estimated 12,000 fighters, has been driven from its bases in the north in an army offensive that began in January.

The group is designated a terrorist organization by the U.S., the European Union and India.

To contact the reporters on this story: Paul Tighe in Sydney atptighe@bloomberg.netJay Shankar in Bangalore atjshankar1@bloomberg.net.

Last Updated: May 10, 2009 21:16 EDT 

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