Colombo, May 22 (ANI): A former Tamil Tiger leader who defected to become a Sri Lankan government minister has officially admitted that a significant numbers of civilians were killed during the final offensive against the rebels. Vinayagamoorthy Muralitharan, alias Colonel Karuna, told The Telegraph that President Mahinda Rajapaksa had made a mistake when he claimed no one had died at the hands of the army.
He said Tamil Tigers claims of 20,000 deaths were an overestimate, but added: "There are casualties, and we have to appreciate the casualties because without them you can't rescue the people. They made a mistake. The president knows the damage."
He said he did not know the exact numbers, but according to the United Nations between 8,000 and 10,000 civilians died in the Sri Lankan army advance across the north of the island between January and May.
Some are believed to have been shot by Tamil Tiger fighters as they tried to flee the battle zone, while many died in army mortar attacks.
"I feel very sad for the people of the north. They are Tamil people and [the Tamil Tigers] did very bad things to them. When civilians tried to escape, including children, they were shot," he said.
Muralitharan, now a Minister for Constitutional Affairs and National Integration and vice-president of the ruling Sri Lankan Freedom Party, also challenged officials who earlier this week said more than a quarter of a million displaced civilians could be held in overcrowded camps for up to two years.
He called for them to be resettled quickly and said the wasted north of the island must be swiftly redeveloped to unify the country and help Tamils forget the past.
"There are a lot of landmines there, but after clearing, we can resettle. There's no need for two years, after one we can resettle," he said.
He said 95 per cent of buildings in three districts were destroyed and new schools, hospitals, roads, were needed while water, electricity and communications services would have to be restored. "The whole infrastructure needs completely rebuilding," he said.
Muralitharan spoke shortly after he returned from identifying the dead body of his former leader, Velupillai Prabhakaran. (ANI)