Colombo: Civilians who survived the final days of last year`s fighting between Sri Lankan troops and the vanquished Tamil rebels testified on Sunday about conditions in their shrinking patch of land as government troops closed in.
The testimony was given before a government-appointed reconciliation commission probing events surrounding the final eight years of the conflict in northern Sri Lanka, which stretched from 1983 to 2009.
The final days of the conflict drew significant international outrage, with many observers saying the Sri Lankan government was not doing enough to shield civilians from the fighting as it pursued eventually successful efforts to stamp out the Tamil rebels.
Parents looking for their children, wives looking for their husbands and families affected by the fierce fighting between government troops and Tamil rebels testified before the commission, which met in Poonkeryn, Kilinochchi, 320 km north of the capital.
More than 40 to 45 pregnant mothers and babies died as they were in a queue to collect nutritional food when they were hit by shells and aerial strikes, agricultural officer Nadarajaha Sundaramoorthy told the commission, although he did not say who was responsible for the shelling.
He said the incident occurred in Puthumathalan, 370 km north-east of the capital, where the Tamil rebels and civilians were cornered in the final days of the conflict.
He said his daughter was injured when a bullet went through her throat.
Another woman testified about her son, a former rebel who surrendered through a Catholic priest to the Army during the final stages of the conflict in May last year. She said she does not know his whereabouts.
V Kandasamy, another villager blinded during the war, said people would never want this to happen again.
Some of the civilians, mostly women, came with photographs of missing persons and requested that the commission help them in their search.
The seven-member commission was appointed by President Mahinda Rajapaksa two months ago. This was the first hearing in former rebel-held areas.
They are looking for the reasons a 2002 Norwegian-brokered ceasefire failed and into the events surrounding the final days of the conflict. They are also charged with making recommendations on reconciliation.