Three days before Tamil Nadu goes to polls, at least 381 Tamil civilians were killed and more than 1,100 injured in alleged indiscriminate shelling by the Sri Lankan army (SLA) inside the no fire zone (NFZ) on Saturday night.
The SLA and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) are said to be locked in a pitched battle in a 3 sq km
sliver of land in Mullaitivu.
Officials and doctors functioning inside the NFZ told HT over telephone that they could see bodies strewn across when the smoke cleared.
According to the pro-rebel website, TamilNet, 67 children were among the dead.
“An air raid was also conducted on Saturday afternoon, at around 3.30 pm,’’ government doctor, V Shanmugarajah, in-charge of the makeshift Mullaivyakkal hospital in the NFZ, told HT.
The Sri Lankan government denied the allegation, and instead claimed that LTTE had fired at civilians attempting to flee the safe zone. The rebels used heavy weapons at the civilians, officials said.
“What will gain by harming civilians? We are extra careful and vigilant (about not harming civilians). Our victory is not in getting (LTTE chief) Prabhakaran but in getting out every civilian out of the NFZ without any harm. The allegations are part of propaganda to incite the international community, especially India, and save Prabhakaran,’’ K Rambukwella, minister and defence spokesperson, told HT.
“There is no shelling taking place,” military spokesperson Brigadier Udaya Nanayakkara told reporters. Two weeks ago, the government had decided to cease firing heavy artillery or carry out air raids on the zone to avoid civilian casualties.
The military, however, has been pushing into rebel territory over the last few weeks, completely cornering them. There were reports in the local media about the possible use of heavy weapons by the military to wipe out the remaining LTTE leaders and cadres in the safe zone.
The NFZ 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.
But a medical officer, a government functionary in the NFZ, was willing to speak on record. “Till 9 a.m., 257 bodies were brought to the hospital. We counted at least 847 injured. But the number of dead could be more,’’ T Varatharajah, regional director of health, said. The makeshift hospital was a school till five days ago, he said. It has six doctors and a classroom is now the operation theatre
Another official, who did not want to be named, said he saw a lot of bodies. “I could not visit many of the sites because of the shelling. The shelling was on through the night,’’ the official, whose profile is similar to that of a district magistrate’s in India, said. He said he was one of the hundreds of government officials still stuck in the NFZ, adding that while the LTTE did not interfere in their humanitarian work, they also did not allow them to leave the NFZ.
On the number of civilians in the zone, Varatharajah said at least 40,000 families, or around 1.6 lakh people, continue to be inside. “They are not staying in the NFZ; they are just alive. There are no tents, no food and little medicine,’’ Varatharajah said.
“The large-scale slaughter is believed to be a result of India prodding Colombo to finish the war before the change of government, political circles in Colombo said adding that it seems that the ‘war on terror’ has been translated into ‘war on civilians’ in the time of Obama Administration,’’ TamilNet said.