Colombo, May 29 (ANI): Over 20,000 Tamil civilians were killed in the final throes of the Sri Lankan civil war, most of them victims of indiscriminate government troop shelling, an investigation by The Times has revealed.
The number of casualties is three times the official figure, the paper reports.
Authorities in Sri Lanka are insisting that their forces stopped using heavy weapons on April 27 and observed the no-fire zone where 100,000 Tamil men, women and children were sheltering. They have blamed all civilian casualties on Tamil Tiger rebels concealed among the civilians.
Aerial photographs, official documents, witness accounts and expert testimony, however, tell a different story.
According to The Times, the Sri Lankan Army launched a fierce barrage at the end of April that lasted for about three weeks. That offensive ended Sri Lanka's 26-year civil war with the Tamil Tigers, but innocent civilians paid the price.
Confidential United Nations documents acquired by The Times record nearly 7,000 civilian deaths in the no-fire zone up to the end of April. UN sources said that the toll then surged, with an average of 1,000 civilians killed each day until May 19, the day after Velupillai Prabhakaran, the leader of the Tamil Tigers, was killed.
That figure concurs with the estimate made to The Times by Father Amalraj, a Roman Catholic priest who fled the no-fire zone on May 16 and is now interned with 200,000 other survivors in Manik Farm refugee camp.
It would take the final toll above 20,000. "Higher," a UN source told The Times. "Keep going."
Independent defence experts who analysed dozens of aerial photographs taken by The Times said that the arrangement of the army and rebel firing positions and the narrowness of the no-fire zone made it unlikely that Tiger mortar fire or artillery caused a significant number of deaths. (ANI)