Catherine Philp from Colombo in the Times, UK:
More than 20,000 Tamil civilians were killed in the final throes of the Sri Lankan civil war, most as a result of government shelling, an investigation by The Times has revealed.
The number of casualties is three times the official figure.
The Sri Lankan authorities have insisted that their forces stopped using heavy weapons on April 27 and observed the no-fire zone where 100,000 Tamil men, women and children were sheltering. They have blamed all civilian casualties on Tamil Tiger rebels concealed among the civilians. More:
[Visit the Times page for the photographs.]
Also read Emily Wax report in the Washington Post:
The strip of beach where tens of thousands of civilians huddled during the Sri Lankan military’s decisive assault against the Tamil Tiger rebels this month shows clear signs of heavy artillery shelling, according to a helicopter inspection of the site by independent journalists, interviews with eyewitnesses, and specialists who have studied high-resolution satellite imagery from the war zone.
That evidence contradicts government assertions that areas of heavy civilian populations were no-fire zones that were deliberately spared during the final weeks of military assault that ended this island nation’s quarter-century of civil war.
“We see a lot of images of destroyed structures and what look like circular shell craters and also, frankly, very large holes in the ground. If it was a shell, it must be a very large one to make 24-feet-wide craters,” said Lars Bromley, director of the American Association for the Advancement of Science’s Geospatial Technologies and Human Rights project, which was asked by human rights groups to study the satellite images. More:
Catherine Philp and Michael Evans in the Times:
On Wednesday evening the Sri Lankan delegation at the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva was celebrating after its victory in fending off an investigation into alleged war crimes committed by its army.
Sri Lanka’s Government has consistently denied killing civilians in the battle to wipe out the Tamil Tigers and blamed the rebels for any deaths. It hailed the vote by the council as a vindication of its action.
An investigation by The Times into Sri Lanka’s civilian casualties, however – which was conducted in a week-long visit to Sri Lanka – has found evidence of a civilian death toll of 20,000, almost three times that cited previously. The majority perished under government guns. More:
A reporter’s story
Catherine Philp in the Times:
It was four years since I had been to Sri Lanka and everything had changed. The shaky ceasefire, which was collapsing even then, had imploded with an all-out military offensive to drive out the Tamil Tigers.
At a distance I was not necessarily opposed. In five years of covering South Asia I had travelled several times to “Tigerland” and was in no doubt of the rebels’ capacity for brutality. More:
From the New York Times news blog, The Lede:
The English newspaper’s estimate, which it said was based on an analysis of “aerial photographs, official documents, witness accounts and expert testimony,” relied in part on an anonymous United Nations source and what the paper called “confidential United Nations documents.” But Sri Lankan officials heaped scorn on the report and U.N. officials told The New York Times, The Guardian and The BBC that they have no good estimate of the number of civilians killed in the final weeks of fighting and questioned the methodology.
On The Times of London Web site, the newspaper’s foreign editor, Richard Beeston, narrates a video analysis of aerial photographs of the beach where Tamil Tiger separatists made their last stand, surrounded by thousands of civilians. The photographs appear to have been taken after the fighting ceased, and The Times says that they show evidence of shelling and of a large number of graves for both militants and civilians. More: