Sri Lanka accused of shelling civilians
At least 378 died in an overnight bombardment, a government doctor said. The military denies the attack.
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Already facing allegations of human rights abuses and war crimes, the Sri Lankan government may have implicated itself further amid new allegations that it shelled civilians on Saturday and Sunday. The alleged bombardment, part of the government's bid to end the protracted standoff with the last remaining elements of the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), has reportedly left hundreds dead and injured.
For weeks, Sri Lankan government forces have had the LTTE cornered in their last remaining stronghold on the northern tip of the island nation. Thousands of civilians are trapped inside LTTE fortifications. The rebel group has been accused of using them as human shields.
With a media ban still in place, it remains difficult to verify these claims, reports the BBC. The news channel's correspondent in Colombo, however, said "health officials are convinced the shells are coming from territory held by the Sri Lankan army." Additionally, he reported that "two hospitals were struggling to cope with the casualties, and that people were hiding in bunkers and many makeshift tents had been burnt."
Meanwhile, TamilNet, a pro-Tamil website that supports LTTE, reports that the "indiscriminate barrage" may have killed up to 2,000 civilians, but said it could confirm only the same number of causalities as the BBC. This most recent attack could have been provoked by increasing pressure from India for the Sri Lankan government to bring and end to the conflict before a new government takes control in India, reports TamilNet.
India, however, has officially ruled out intervening in their island neighbor's conflict. In a statement on Saturday, India's prime minister said that a lasting solution to Asia's longest-running war can only come from within Sri Lanka, reports Xinhua, the official Chinese news agency.
"There can be no military solution to the problems of Tamils in Sri Lanka. The legitimate aspirations of the Tamil-speaking minority must be fulfilled within the framework of a united and federal Sri Lanka through a negotiated and peaceful settlement," Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said in a statement to the media in the southern city of Chennai.
While the government of Sri Lanka continues to deride reports of the weekend attack as false "propaganda," they've also come out denying reports released earlier this month that they attacked hospitals in the safe zone. A Human Rights Watch report released on Friday accused the government of bombing at least 30 permanent or temporary hospitals, but government officials say there were no hospitals in these locations, reports Al Jazeera International.
"All of the people who are putting out these reports have gone wrong. ... The military conducted rescue operations. We used only small arms. There was no shelling of those areas.
"All those organisations ... have made a lot of allegations saying that the army bombed hospitals. But when we moved in, we proved that no [bombing] had taken place," said [Brigadier Udaya Nanayakkara, Sri Lanka's military spokesman].
As the war grinds on in Sri Lanka, Tamil communities around the world are leading mass protests to create awareness about the situation. In Britain, popular singer Mathangi Arulpragasam, better known as M.I.A., appealed to Oprah Winfrey to help her raise awareness, reports the Daily Mirror. Though she was born in Britain, the singer is of Tamil origin. In Canada, home to a large Tamil population, thousands of people marched on Saturday calling for a cease-fire, reports The Toronto Sun.
In Sri Lanka, however, there is frustration with the international community, which some say is overly critical of their government's effort. An editorial in Sri Lanka's Sunday Observer questions the validity of international intervention in their conflict.
For some unseen or strange reason, some of those who are interested and concerned about us do not appreciate the positive aspects and the success story of the completion of the 30-year war in three years with minimum casualties with utmost professionalism. These are the forgotten factors of the series of events. It is the last lap of the Humanitarian Military Operation and the trapped LTTE needs a lifeline to rearm and regroup as has been done in many previous occasions.
This weekend, the Sri Lankan government also made clear its firm ban on media coverage when it deported three journalists from Britain's Channel 4 News for broadcasting footage shot inside a government-run camp where displaced people have taken refuge. The report showed alleged mistreatment of Tamil civilians in the camp.
Critics say that the emergency shelters are becoming open-ended detention centers underwritten by foreign donors.