Bloodbath. That’s the expression the United Nations has used to describe the killing of over 100 children over the weekend inside a narrow strip of land in northeastern Sri Lanka, where the Tamil Tigers are still holding thousands of civilians hostage.
The UN confirmed the deaths of children and said its fears of large-scale killings in the “civilian safe zone” (CSZ) had come true. Government doctors functioning in the area warned that lack of medical facilities and clean water could trigger epidemics of infectious diseases.
The UN statement – though it did not attribute the killings to the allegedly large-scale shelling done by Sri Lankan army (SLA) -- forced the Lankan government to go on a diplomatic overdrive denying the charges.
They instead blamed the LTTE for killing and injuring at least 250 civilians attempting to cross over to government-controlled areas. ``The LTTE responded with mortar fire which fell within the conflict zone. Around 250 were injured or killed due a combination of fire opened by LTTE sentries and mortar fire,’’ the President’s office said in statement. The military and government continued to say that its troops were only using small arms against the remaining LTTE leaders and cadres.
There were indications that the civilian toll could rise with defence secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa telling a local newspaper to expect ``a major breakthrough within the next 48 hours.’’
The toll of civilians on Monday was already up. “The death count of civilians till 4 p.m. on Monday was 435 including 106 children. More than 1300 are injured and of them, 251 are children,’’ government doctor, V Shanmugarajah, in-charge of the makeshift Mullaivyakkal hospital in the area, told HT.
“There were many who died without medical attention,”' Shanmugarajah said, adding that the actual estimates of the dead could be much higher.
The government, however, rejected his statement, claiming that he was under duress from the LTTE.
More than 1.6 lakh men, women and children continue to live in the CSZ, staying without shelter and running one from one corner of the zone to the other to avoid falling shells.
The UN spokesperson in Colombo, Gordon Weiss, told AFP that more than 100 children were among the large number of Tamil civilians killed in a weekend "bloodbath".
“The large scale killing of civilians, including the death of over 100 children, over the weekend shows that the bloodbath scenario has become a reality,” Weiss said.
He said the UN had been warning of a bloodbath as tens of thousands of civilians have been trapped in a narrow patch of coastline where the Tamil Tigers are fighting to hold back a massive military assault.
The CSZ is located 380-odd km north of Colombo and is out of bounds for journalists, making independent verification of claims by the government -- or the Tamil rebels – difficult.
Meanwhile, the Lankan Defence Ministry claimed that the `spokesperson’ of LTTE, Ilanthirayan, succumbed to his injuries late on Sunday.
``According to the pro-LTTE website, Ilanthirayan was a senior cadre of the terror outfit from Batticaloa and he had been in key positions of the terror outfit,’’ the defence ministry said.
The second-in-command of the LTTE sea tiger wing identified as Cheliyan was also killed when troops advanced to capture the LTTE build earth bund in general area Karayanmullivaikkal.