At least 52 civilians were killed in intense fighting between the Sri Lankan army (SLA) and the LTTE since Tuesday, the UN said in Colombo on Wednesday.
The UN alleged that cluster bombs have hit one of the last functioning hospitals in the north-eastern district of Mullaitivu where the rebels are locked in, what some say, the final battle with the SLA.
“Cluster bombs have hit a hospital in the Wanni region,” UN spokesperson Gordon Weiss said. The attack came less than two days after the government asked all civilians to enter the demarcated ‘safety zone’ as soon as possible, saying otherwise their security could not be guaranteed.
Cluster bombs are air-dropped or ground-launched munitions that eject smaller sub munitions: a cluster of little bombs. They are banned by the UN and rights organisations say the bombs leave behind a trail of devastation, killing and maiming people for life.
“We hold the gravest fears for the safety of our staff and their families,” Weiss said. On Sunday, the civil hospital in Pudukudiyyiruppu in Tigers-controlled area was shelled, killing 12 patients and injuring dozens.
The government, however, denied the allegation about using cluster bombs, and that 52 civilians were killed. “The Government wishes to clarify that the Sri Lanka army do not use these cluster bombs nor do they have facilities to use them. The Sri Lanka army has never used such lethal munitions against innocent civilians in their war against terror,” the government said.
In another development, a joint statement issued by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and British Foreign Secretary David Miliband called on “the Government of Sri Lanka and the LTTE to agree to a temporary no-fire period. Both sides need to allow civilians and wounded to leave the conflict area and to grant access for humanitarian agencies.”