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Central & South Asia
Sri Lanka defends war against LTTE
Defence chief denies war crimes during domestic probe into war against Tamil separatists.
Last Modified: 18 Aug 2010 05:01 GMT
The United Nations says at least 7,000 civilians were killed in the last five months of the conflict [AFP]

The Sri Lankan defence secretary has defended the military against allegations of mass rights abuses during last year's assault on Tamil Tiger separatists.

Gotabhaya Rajapaksa told a government-appointed war commission that at least 6,000 troops were killed and 30,000 wounded during the "humanitarian mission" to free ethnic Tamil civilians from the grip of the separatists.

"We took great care to avoid [endangering] civilians. It was a difficult period for us. Our military had to stop operations and give protection to people, food convoys," Rajapaksa said on Tuesday in Colombo, the Sri Lankan capital.

He gave no estimates for Tamil fighters or civilian casualties and accused critics of confusing "rebel casualties as civilians".

"It's very difficult to identify the civilian casualties ... nobody talks of the LTTE's dead and injured," he said referring to the group's formal title, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam.

"They put all these figures also into the civilian casualty figure.''

Rights abuses

The United Nations says at least 7,000 civilians were killed in the last five months of the conflict. In all, it says between 80,000 and 100,000 people were killed during the war.

IN DEPTH
  Q&A: Sri Lanka's civil war
  The history of the Tamil Tigers
  Timeline: Conflict in Sri Lanka
  'High cost' of victory over Tigers
  Caught in the middle
  101 East: Sri Lanka after the war
  Fighting impunity in Sri Lanka

The International Crisis Group reported earlier this year that at least 30,000 civilians could have died in the last years of the war. It also said civilians in the war zone were deprived of food and medical care.

Rights groups have called for an international probe into abuses by both sides, including allegations government troops shelled a "no-fire zone'' created by itself in the northeast of the island after hundreds of thousands of minority Tamils sought refuge there in the last stages of the fighting.

Rajapaksa told the commission that measures taken to prevent civilian casualties included restrictions on using heavy weapons, creation of no-fire zones, and sending convoys of food, medicine and other essentials.

Asked if Western governments or aid agencies raised questions of rights abuses by the army, Rajapaksa said: "No complaints about human rights violations or abuses by the army was brought to my notice. None at all."

'Humanitarian catastrophe'

He made no reference to relief agency reports of a "humanitarian catastrophe" during the final months of the war, including the killing of surrendering Tamil Tigers and shelling civilians.

He said the government has video proof to show Tamil combatants fighting in civilian
clothing and also using civilians for military work.

Sri Lanka's 25-year civil war ended in May 2009 after the government forces crushed the Tamil Tigers who had been fighting for an independent state for a quarter-century, after what they said were decades of discrimination of Tamils by the ethnic Sinhalese majority.

The eight-member panel is not empowered to probe war crimes, but is expected to focus on why a 2002 truce between the government and separatist Tamil Tiger fighters collapsed and led to more fighting.

Sri Lanka has rejected a separate UN probe into alleged rights abuses and resisted US-led calls for an independent international war crimes investigation.

Source:
Agencies
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