Sunday, May 10, 2009


Sri Lankan soldiers, file image
The military strenuously denies shelling civilians

Sri Lankan government forces have been accused of killing dozens of Tamil civilians in a night of shelling in the country's northern war zone.

The pro-rebel Tamilnet website and government health officials said 257 civilians were killed and 814 hurt.

But the Sri Lankan military denied that any shelling had taken place.

The Tamil Tiger rebels and the military regularly accuse each other of atrocities in the civil conflict - claims that are impossible to verify.

Foreign reporters are banned from the war zone.

The Tamilnet website reported that heavy shelling had started late on Saturday and continued into Sunday.

It said doctors in a makeshift hospital in Vanni district had taken in 814 wounded people, and cited one doctor as saying 257 people had been killed.

The injured told the doctors "dead bodies are scattered everywhere", according to the site.

The BBC's Charles Haviland, in Colombo, said health officials confirmed that 257 people had died.

They said two hospitals were struggling to cope with the casualties, and that people were hiding in bunkers and many makeshift tents had been burnt.

They added that among those killed was a government nursing officer.

But the military denied the allegations.

Sri Lankan defence spokesman Keheliya Rambukwella told the BBC the accounts were "propaganda" of the Tamil Tigers and that there had been neither shelling nor air attacks on the civilian zone.

"That is a fact," he said.

He said the guerrillas were "holding people to ransom" in their area, and accused the rebels of killing nine civilians who were trying to escape their zone on Saturday.

The UN estimates that about 50,000 civilians are trapped by the conflict.

The Tamil Tigers have fought for an independent homeland for Sri Lanka's Tamil minority since 1983.

More than 70,000 people have been killed in the war.




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