Sri Lanka Government disputes report of 20,000 dead

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Colombo, May 30 (ANI): The Government of Sri Lanka has denounced a report by The Times of London on Friday that said "more than 20,000 Tamil civilians were killed in the final throes of the Sri Lankan civil war, most as a result of government shelling."

The English newspaper's estimate was based on an analysis of "aerial photographs, official documents, witness accounts and expert testimony," relied in part on an anonymous United Nations source and what the paper called "confidential United Nations documents."

Sri Lankan officials, however, rejected the report and U.N. officials told The New York Times, The Guardian and The BBC that they have no good estimate of the number of civilians killed in the final weeks of fighting and questioned the methodology.

BBC quoted Sri Lankan security official, Laksham Hullegalle as saying there had been no shelling by government forces in this area and suggested that the photographs were "totally unbelievable" and might be fake.

A coordinator for U.N. humanitarian relief, Elizabeth Byrs said that any estimate of the death toll must be based on extrapolation and guesswork. The Guardian reported much the same from Colombo.

Privately, U.N. staff admitted they were puzzled by the methodology used to achieve the new death toll.

"Someone has made an imaginative leap and that is at odds with what we have been saying before," one official said.

A Sri Lankan foreign ministry official suggested that The Times of London might be acting out of spite, since Sri Lanka had deported one of its correspondents, along with other independent journalists, during the conflict.

Foreign Secretary Dr. Palitha Kohona told the BBC: "I am bemused that The Times, like a jilted old woman, is continuing a bitter campaign against Sri Lanka based on unverified figures and unsubstantiated assertions."

In the meantime, as Sri Lanka continues to bar most independent journalists from the country, the government is free to put its own spin on post-war conditions. (ANI)

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