At least 40000 Tamil civilians could have been killed in the final phases of the Sri Lankan civil war, the expert panel report to UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon has said.
"A number of credible sources have estimated that there could have been as many as 40000 civilian deaths. Two years after the end of the war, there is still no reliable figure for civilian deaths, but multiple sources of information indicate that a range of up to 40000 civilian deaths cannot be ruled out at this stage," the report said, under a section titled 'The number of civilian deaths'.
The report, yet to made public, said civilian deaths were caused by multiple factors including incessant shelling of the 'no firing zone' (NFZ) by government troops and indiscriminate firing by Tamil Tigers at the displaced attempting to escape.
Last year, an India doctor who had worked among the displaced pouring out of the NFZ had told HT about "massive casualties" among the civilians. The numbers will be news to the government and the military who have steadfastly claimed that not a single civilian was killed in the final stages.
The three-member expert panel, led by former Indonesian attorney general Marzuki Darusman, said an unreleased UN document that put the initial figure of dead civilians at 7721 between August 2008 and May 2009 was a "starting point".
But it was likely to be much lower than the actual count for several reasons including the fact that the UN stopped counting on May 13, five days before the end of war. "Due to the intensity of shelling, many civilians were left where they died and were never registered, brought to a hospital or even buried. This means that in reality the total number could easily be several times that of the UN figure," the panel members reasoned.
UN agencies could have also under-reported because of government pressure and fearing of losing access, the panelists said.
But 40000 is not the only estimate mentioned by the panel; it has quoted one where the figure touches the 75000 mark.
"Others have put the figure at 75000, a figure obtained by subtracting the number of people who emerged from the conflict zone (approximately 290000) from the estimate of the number thought to have been in the conflict zone (approximately 330000 in the NFZ from January, plus approximately the 35000, who emerged from LTTE-held areas before that time.)," the report added.