BBC News – 2009-05-10 08:56:56
‘Steep Rise’ in Sri Lanka Deaths
COLOMBO (May 10, 2009) — At least 378 people have been killed by fierce shelling from the Sri Lankan army in the past 24 hours, a health official has told the BBC. The doctor, working in the northern conflict zone, said 1,122 others had been injured – and more bodies were on beaches and by the sides of roads.
The army denies shelling the designated “safe zone” for civilians, and blames any deaths on Tamil Tiger rebels. The claims are impossible to verify as reporters are banned from the war zone. But the BBC’s Charles Haviland, in Colombo, says a steady stream of information coming from the area suggests that civilians are being killed. And he says health officials are convinced that the shells are coming from territory held by the Sri Lankan army.
The pro-rebel Tamilnet website reported that the army began to fire artillery shells late on Saturday. The site said as many as 2,000 civilians had been killed.
Dr V Shanmugarajah said he could not confirm that figure but said the makeshift hospital he is working in – at a school in east Mullaivaikal in Mullaitivu district — had so far taken in 378 bodies. He said 106 of those killed were children.
Claims of Duress
However, military spokesman Brigadier Udaya Nanayakkara said radar had detected Tamil Tigers themselves using artillery and mortar fire on two occasions in the morning, directed against civilians within their zone.
“These doctors are giving statements based on some of the false propaganda given by the LTTE [Tamil Tigers],” he said. “Maybe there is an LTTE gun pointing at them and asking them to give a statement. All these stories are exaggerated to tarnish the image of the Sri Lankan troops who are fighting the LTTE terrorists.”
Sri Lankan defence spokesman Keheliya Rambukwella also told the BBC that reports of government shelling were “propaganda” of the Tigers. He said the guerrillas were “holding people to ransom” in their area, and accused them of killing nine civilians who were trying to escape their zone on Saturday.
Earlier, doctors 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 a government nursing officer was among those killed.
The UN estimates that about 50,000 civilians are trapped by the conflict in a three-km-sq strip of land. 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.
© BBC MMIX
Eyewitness: ‘I Thought: I Won’t Survive’
COLOMBO (April 22, 2009) — Almost 100,000 civilians have fled the war zone in northern Sri Lanka. Journalists are generally not given access to fleeing civilians. But Swaminathan Natarajan of the BBC’s Tamil service managed to speak to Vinoo, a young mother who made this difficult journey and is now in a government-controlled camp in Vavuniya.
We were staying near Puttumatalan hospital. On the night of the 20th there was heavy shelling. I thought, I won’t survive. There was continuous shelling from midnight to the early morning.
During that time we took shelter inside a bunker. At around 6am, when I came out of the bunker, I saw people running all around amid shelling. I also joined them. But soon I got injured in the legs and arms. My husband got injured in his head. Some shrapnel is still inside his head. Still, we came out of the LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam)-controlled area along with our son.
My mother and brother also started with us, but I don’t know what happened to them. I have lost all contact with them.
The LTTE had built a bund and because of that structure it was difficult to move. People had to walk through neck-deep water. Some children fell down in the water. It was difficult to cross that area. I don’t know how to describe that.
We were trying to escape for the past month. We packed a few of our belongings and tried to escape at an opportune moment. But we were prevented by the LTTE from escaping from the area.
Once we crossed over to the government-controlled areas we were checked in at a few checkpoints. They completely checked everything. They made a detailed account of the jewels I was wearing and took note of the cash I had with me.
After the checking we were kept in a military camp, in a place called Chalai. From there we were taken to a school. From there we were brought to Vavuniya by bus. Before reaching Vavuniya we were checked again in the Omantai checkpoint.
There has been no proper food for the past three days. Yesterday afternoon we got something to eat. Today, only in the late afternoon, we got food. But the amount is very little. We three shared a single meal.
I have not been given any clothes. So I am still wearing a dress which got wet and is covered by mud and dirt. I have not taken a bath for the past three days. It is very difficult here. My husband’s bandage needs to be changed immediately.
In the LTTE-controlled areas life is very difficult. There is a huge shortage of food. There is heavy fighting and many are dying every day. Some days it is difficult to get a single meal. So we planned to escape to the government-controlled areas.
We were not bothered to take any of our belongings. We made three attempts in one month to escape but all of them were thwarted by the LTTE. Now we have come to safety.
© BBC MMIX
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