Sri Lanka shelling kills over 2,000 civilians: rebels

Sri Lanka's Tamil Tiger rebels Sunday accused the government of killing more than 2,000 civilians in a day of artillery attacks, but the military vehemently denied the allegations.

The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) said in a statement posted on the pro-rebel Tamilnet website that the army had unleashed a devastating offensive on the small coastal patch of land that the rebels still control.

"More than 2,000 innocent civilians have been killed in the last 24 hours," Tamilnet quoted S. Pathmanathan, the rebels' chief arms smuggler, as saying.

The website said rescue workers had counted more than 1,200 bodies. Many of the dead were "found in bunkers and inside the tarpaulin tents," it said.

This photo provided by a pro-LTTE organisation on May 5, 2009 shows Tamil civilians walking past a truck that was destroyed by Sri Lanka shelling the rebel-held territory in Mullaittivu.

Tamilnet also said that the Tigers' military spokesman, Rasiah Ilanthiriyan, had been "seriously wounded" in Sunday's attacks.

A government doctor, V. Shanmugarajah, who works in the area still under rebel control told the BBC that 378 bodies and 1,122 wounded had been brought to a makeshift hospital Sunday.

The military has said that doctors in the area are also hostages of the Tigers and questioned the credibility of their accounts.

The military dismissed the rebel claims as propaganda, saying the guerrillas themselves had carried out the attacks using mortars "to tarnish the image of the security forces in the eyes of the public nationally and internationally."

Sunday's conflicting claims were characteristic of the war, in which independent reporting is impossible as journalists and aid workers are banned from travelling freely in the area.

A British television news team was expelled from Sri Lanka on Sunday after it broadcast allegations of poor treatment of the 200,000 Tamils who are being held in state-run camps after fleeing the fighting.

The report, shown on Channel 4, contained allegations of sexual abuse and claims of dead bodies being left where they fell, as well as water and food shortfalls -- all of which Colombo has denied.

The Foreign Office in London said it was disappointed by the journalists' expulsion.

"This is a deeply disappointing decision when the case for more transparency, not less, is overwhelming," the Foreign Office said in a statement.

Sri Lanka's leaders believe the military is on the verge of defeating the Tamil rebels, who are holed up on the northeastern coast of the island, after 37 years of conflict.

At the height of their power in 2006, the Tigers -- who want an independent Tamil homeland in the Sinhalese-majority island -- controlled roughly a third of the island.

The Sri Lankan government has refused international calls for a ceasefire despite reports from the United Nations last month saying up to 6,500 civilians may have been killed and 14,000 wounded in fighting since January.

It has also turned down requests by the UN to send humanitarian officials into the rebel territory, where the UN estimates about 50,000 civilians are trapped.

The government says the number of civilians being held by the Tigers as "human shields" is less than 20,000.

Defence officials reported on Sunday that troops had advanced further into Tiger territory despite fierce resistance from the rebels.

Source AFP

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