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Sri Lanka War Abuses Killed Thousands, Group Says

May 17 (Bloomberg) -- Tens of thousands of Tamil civilians died in the final five months of Sri Lanka’s civil war as security forces and Tamil Tiger rebels repeatedly violated international humanitarian laws, an advocacy group said today.

Countless more men, women, children and the elderly were “wounded, and hundreds of thousands deprived of adequate food and medical care,” the Brussels-based International Crisis Group said in its report, entitled ‘War Crimes in Sri Lanka.’ It called for an independent international investigation into alleged acts committed by government forces and the rebel Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam in the country’s north.

President Mahinda Rajapaksa won re-election in January with his popularity with the island nation’s majority Sinhalese buoyed by victory in the 26-year war with the Tamil separatists. Although both sides committed atrocities throughout the conflict, the scale of the offenses worsened from January 2009 to the government’s declaration of victory in May, the report said.

Researchers found evidence to warrant an inquiry into allegations the Sri Lankan army from late January encouraged hundreds of thousands of civilians to move into government-declared “no-fire zones” and then “subjected them to repeated and increasingly intense artillery and mortar barrages and other fire,” the group said today. Reports that soldiers shelled hospitals and humanitarian operations must also be probed, the group said.

While there is evidence of war crimes committed by the LTTE and its leaders, the report said, “most of them were killed and will never face justice.”

‘Unsubstantiated Report’

Sri Lanka’s foreign secretary, Chrysantha Romesh Jayasinghe, was not available to take telephone calls seeking comment. The top bureaucrat in the Ministry of Disaster Management and Human Rights, Marina Mohamed, said she was not in a position to comment on the report.

Sri Lanka said on Oct. 26 it would investigate a U.S. State Department report alleging human rights abuses, including the shelling of Tamil civilians during the final battle with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam in May.

While the government that month described the report as “unsubstantiated,” Rajapaksa appointed an independent team to look into the report.

“It’s the responsibility of a democratic state to investigate the charges of such nature,” the government cited Mahinda Samarasinghe, the minister for disaster management and human rights, as saying then.

Evidence gathered by the International Crisis Group includes eyewitness statements, photographs, satellite imagery, electronic communications and documents, according to the report released today. “This evidence provides reasonable grounds to believe war crimes were committed by both sides.”

The Tamil Tiger rebels killed civilians who were attempting to flee the shelling and cross over to government-held regions, according to the report. The rebels also forcibly recruited civilians to battle troops.

To contact the reporters on this story: Jay Shankar in Bangalore at jshankar1@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Stephen Foxwell in Mumbai at sfoxwell@bloomberg.net.

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