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“No clarity on Sri Lankan civilian casualties”

[Hindu, Thursday, 2 June 2011 20:14 No Comment]

Two years after the defeat of the LTTE, Sri Lanka says it is yet to figure out how many civilians died during the battle.

Addressing members of the defence forces from 41 countries at a seminar, “Defeating terrorism — the Sri Lankan experience”, which concluded here on Thursday, an expert put the number of civilian deaths at 1,400 — a claim which was quickly dismissed by Sri Lankan Army Commander Jagath Jayasuriya as the academic’s “personal opinion”.

Lieutenant-General Jayasuriya said it was not possible to fix the exact number of civilian casualties because many had fled the areas where fighting raged. They had been in the camps for internally displaced persons and had just returned to their homes. Only after an extensive enumeration was conducted and each family interviewed, would the Army be in a position to finalise the number of deaths. There was also an Act of Parliament which said only after a person had not been found for more than a year could he or she be declared as missing. After this, the family had to apply to the Government Agent for a death certificate. “Some people are applying. Only once this process is completed we will be able to say for certain,” he said, in response to a question on why there was not even an estimate of the number of civilians killed during the final stages of the war.

Asked why the senior officials did not address the question of how LTTE’s artillery units located in civilian areas were neutralised without inflicting civilian casualties, he said the pictures and video footage that had been supplied to the international community holding the Army responsible for shelling civilian areas were fakes. “The dates and time do not match [with the time when action was launched],” said military spokesperson Major-General U.A.B. Medawela.

The United Nations Secretary-General’s Panel of Experts on Accountability in Sri Lanka, which submitted its report in April, had said “tens of thousands” of civilians lost their lives in the final stages of the war, between January and May 2009 because of the Army’s indiscriminate shelling.

[Full Coverage]

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