US-based rights group claims Lankan forces killed civilians
Last Updated: Monday, May 17, 2010, 18:04
New York: On the eve of Sri Lanka's first 'unification day' marking the end of the civil war, a US-based rights group claimed that the military there killed thousands of civilians by shelling "no fire zones" during the last phase of the ethnic conflict.

The International Crisis Group, an advocacy group based in Brussels and Washington, said despite its promises to protect civilians and aid workers, the Sri Lankan government had bombed relentlessly in areas where it knew unarmed people were present.

ICR said it has reasons to believe that senior government and military officials were aware of the attacks, but failed to protect the civilians.

"The violations, by both sides to the conflict, became particularly frequent and deadly in the months leading to the government's declaration of victory over the LTTE in May 2009," the group said in a report, released on the eve of the first anniversary of the end of the bloody civil war that had claimed over 70,000 lives.

At the same time, the IRV also said the LTTE "deliberately carried out operations" in some areas in northern Lanka with a heavy civilian presence in order to get international attention against the government.

Sri Lanka announced victory in the Eelam War-IV on May 18 after its forces killed the entire Tamil Tigers leadership, including their chief Velupillai Prabhakaran. The country will observe tomorrow as 'unification day'.

The report said evidence gathered by Crisis Group provides reasonable grounds to believe that government security forces repeatedly and intentionally violated the law by attacking civilians, hospitals and humanitarian operations.

The group claimed that the military encouraged hundreds of thousands of people to move in to the 'no fire zones' declared by the government and then subjected them to "repeated and increasingly intense artillery and mortar barrages."

"It also provides reason to believe that senior government and military officials were aware of the massive civilian casualties due to the security forces' attacks, but failed to protect the civilian population as they were obliged to under the laws of war," it added.

The report called for an international inquiry into alleged crimes.

"The scale of civilian deaths and suffering demands a response," said Crisis Group President Louise Arbour.

"Future generations will demand to know what happened, and future peace in Sri Lanka requires some measure of justice."

The report also suggested that the Tamil Tigers endangered civilians by shooting them and preventing them from leaving the conflict zone even when injured and dying.

The IRC also found that international community "turned a blind eye" to the human rights violations.

It also noted that the United Nations too readily complied with the government's demands to withdraw from conflict areas.

"Many countries welcomed the LTTE's defeat regardless of the cost of immense civilian suffering," it said.

For the past two months, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has been in the process of finding experts for an advisory panel that will counsel him on what accountability issues arise and what options can be pursued with regards to alleged human rights violations in Sri Lanka.

Despite the call by several human rights organisations, Colombo has, so far, rejected any demand for an international tribunal.

Meanwhile, Amnesty International also called on the UN to set up an immediate and independent investigation into the human rights violations in Sri Lanka.

"At the end of the war, atrocities against civilians and enemy combatants appeared to be fueled by a sense that there would be no real international consequences for violating the law," said Madhu Malhotra, Amnesty International's Deputy Director for Asia-Pacific.


First Published: Monday, May 17, 2010, 18:04

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