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Sri Lanka, Tamil Tigers trade blame for civilian deaths
Sun May 10, 2009 9:31am EDT
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By C. Bryson Hull
COLOMBO (Reuters) - The cornered Tamil Tigers on Sunday accused Sri Lanka of killing hundreds in an artillery barrage, which the military said the guerrillas had fired off themselves to win sympathy for a truce to stave off defeat.
The reported attack is the latest in a series of accusations and counter-accusations about who is harming civilians, tens of thousands of whom are trapped inside the less than 5 square km (2 sq miles) of battlefield left in Asia's longest modern war.
The civilian presence has prompted Western governments to press Sri Lanka for a truce, which it ruled out on the grounds the Tigers have a history of using them to rearm and refused calls to let the people go during two fighting pauses this year.
The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), surrounded by 50,000 soldiers and on the verge of conventional defeat, increasingly have urged external intervention to aid civilians -- which the United Nations say they are holding as a human shield.
The pro-rebel web site, www.TamilNet.com, said at least 257 bodies had been found and 814 people were wounded after an artillery barrage that began overnight and ended early on Sunday, quoting medical sources it did not identify.
"More than 2,000 innocent civilians have been killed in the last 24 hours. The wholesale bombardment ... on a densely populated, non-combatant civilian safe zone is state terrorism and a war crime," TamilNet quoted Selvarajah Pathmanathan, the Tigers' international diplomatic pointman, as saying.
Pathmanathan was for years the LTTE's chief weapons smuggler and is wanted by Interpol.
Brigadier Udaya Nanayakkara, the military spokesman, said troops had not fired into the area and had long ago stopped using heavy weapons in an effort to avoid civilian deaths.
"The radars detected the LTTE positioning their mortars south of the safe zone and firing from there. This morning, the radar detected two occasions of the LTTE firing to the safe zone to blame the military," he said.
The disparate accounts illustrate the difficulty of getting a clear picture from inside a war zone that is rarely opened to outsiders by either side, and where those present are not fully independent from pressure often delivered at gunpoint.
Both sides have repeatedly exaggerated battlefield accounts for propaganda purposes, and both deny accusations they are harming civilians.
Sri Lanka's military has cornered the LTTE on a strip of coast and seized 15,000 square km from them in less than three years, crushing the LTTE's goal of forming a separate state for Sri Lanka's Tamil minority. The war started in 1983.
Meanwhile, the government on Saturday revoked the visas of a three-person news crew from Britain's Channel 4, saying they had "constantly filed reports with fabricated stories tarnishing the image of the country."
Last week, Channel 4 broadcast a report quoting what it said were Tamil aid workers inside one of the camps for the roughly 200,000 people who have fled the war, saying people had been underfed and mistreated, and some women sexually abused. Continued...
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