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Sri Lankan civilian casualties skyrocket: HRW

[AFP, Friday, 10 April 2009 08:50 No Comment]

Civilian casualties are skyrocketing in Sri Lanka’s northeast as government forces push through with their final assault against Tamil rebels, Human Rights Watch said in a statement.

 

The New York-based watchdog urged the government to stop firing into an area designated as a "no-fire zone" packed with tens of thousands of trapped civilians and the remnants of the Tamil Tigers. The HRW statement came after a pro-rebel website said that government shelling killed 129 non-combatants and wounded 282 more in the supposed safe area on Wednesday, a charge denied by the military. "Sri Lankas so-called no-fire zone is now one of the most dangerous places in the world," said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch.

"The Sri Lankan government should stop firing heavy artillery into the ‘no-fire zone’ in the northern Wanni area where some 100,000 civilians are trapped by the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), causing skyrocketing casualties."

 

Adams urged the United Nations to take urgent measures to end what it said was a violation of international humanitarian law by both the Sri Lankan government and the LTTE. The UN’s own rights body has already said both parties in the conflict could be guilty of war crimes.

 

"The (UN) Security Council has quibbled over protocol when it should be acting to bring an end to this ghastly loss of life," Adams said. Human Rights Watch accuses the Tigers of holding some 100,000 civilians hostage in a narrow 20-square-kilometre (eight-square-mile) coastal jungle area. The Tigers have also been accused of firing at those trying to escape. Many have been killed and wounded as a result of Tiger attacks, according to rights groups and the UN. "Sri Lanka has an obligation under international law to investigate credible allegations of war crimes, including by members of its own forces, and appropriately prosecuting those responsible.

 

"War crimes by the Tamil Tigers dont give Sri Lankan commanders free rein to ignore civilian casualties," Adams said. "Accountability is a two-way street." International mediators of the conflict on Thursday called for both camps to cease their "futile" fighting. The LTTE should "permit freedom of movement for the civilians" trapped in the no-fire zone, representatives of the Tokyo Co-Chairs — the United States, the European Union, Japan and Norway — said in a statement.

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