Gethin Chamberlain and Mark Tran / The Guardian – 2009-05-12 22:10:40
• Video: UN Fears of a Bloodbath Have become a Reality
DELHI (May 11, 2009) — A doctor working inside the no-fire zone in Sri Lanka today told the Guardian that more than 1,400 people were believed to have been killed in two days of air and artillery attacks. Dr V Shanmugarajah said 381 bodies had been brought in to the temporary hospital inside the government safe zone yesterday, and another 55 today. He warned that reports from survivors led him to believe that as many as 1,000 more people could have been killed.
Shanmugarajah, speaking from inside the no-fire zone, said a further 225 casualties had been received by the hospital during the day today. He said shells were continuing to fall on the area in which civilians were sheltering. “Still the shelling continues and the fighting is going on,” he added.
Shanmugarajah said most of the deaths had been caused by shelling, but added that there had also been an attack by a Sri Lankan air force Kfir jet.
His report came as the UN said the bloodbath it had feared since the government launched its all-out campaign to destroy the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) had now become a reality.
UN officials estimate that between 50,000 and 100,000 civilians could still be packed into a tiny three sq km pocket of land, but the Sri Lankan government has claimed that no more than 20,000 are left. Pictures released by medical staff working inside the no-fire zone show the dead and wounded being moved on flatbed trucks and the backs of motorbikes.
The Sri Lankan government has denied using artillery or aircraft and accused the Tamil Tigers of using mortars to fire on civilians for propaganda purposes. There is no way of verifying any of the claims, because independent journalists are denied access to the area where the fighting is taking place.
The UN has been critical of the Sri Lankan use of artillery and air power in such a small area. “We have been consistently warning against a bloodbath, and the large-scale killing of civilians, including more than 100 children this weekend, appears to show that the bloodbath has become a reality,” Gordon Weiss, a UN spokesman, said.
Diplomats and officials said the UN security council was due to have another informal meeting on Sri Lanka in New York today, with the foreign ministers of Britain and France – who had a stormy visit to Sri Lanka at the end of April – both due to attend.
The council is split over whether to move discussion to a formal level at which it could act. Both the US and Britain are pushing to secure a ceasefire, but Russia and China have opposed such a move.
The assault on the no-fire zone started as the Sri Lankan government ordered the tens of thousands of civilians still trapped by the fighting to move into a restricted area to enable it to flush out remaining Tamil rebels. The shrinking of the safe zone meant some families had to abandon the bunkers they had dug to find shelter in the new area designated by the government.
According to a UN source, most of the people killed were inside the new no-fire zone. The official said many were believed to have died in an air strike yesterday morning. Medical staff working in makeshift facilities inside the zone said shells had started falling on Saturday evening. One doctor said the shelling began at 5pm and continued through until 9am. It appeared the shells were fired from government positions in Mullaitivu.
The doctor said the dead included a man who worked as a nurse at the hospital and seven members of his family, who were killed when a shell hit the bunker in which they were sheltering. “The shells were landing about 300 metres from the hospital,” he said. “All the time, we have casualties coming in. We don’t have time to think.” He said the dead were being buried in large pits, with 30 or 40 bodies in each pit.
The pro-LTTE TamilNet website claimed about 2,000 people had died.
The difficulties in reporting the situation in the north of the country were highlighted by the deportation of three members of a Channel 4 news team who were arrested in Trincomalee, south of the no-fire zone, on Saturday.
The government accused them of fabricating a report in which it was alleged that women were being subjected to sexual abuse in the internment camps set up to hold civilians fleeing the fighting.
Lakshman Hulugalle, the head of the government security information centre, said the journalists had admitted they had “done something wrong” and would not be allowed to return to the country. Nick Paton Walsh, the channel’s Asia correspondent, said the government claims were “complete rubbish”.
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