Doctor says up to 1,000 killed in Sri Lanka

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The Independent Online

Two days of shelling in Sri Lanka's northern war zone killed at least 430 civilians - and likely as many as 1,000, a government doctor in the area said today.

The United Nations called the artillery barrages a "bloodbath" that killed more than 100 children, and a coalition of international human rights groups called for the UN Security Council to hold formal talks on the war.

The initial artillery attack, which lasted from Saturday evening into Sunday morning, killed at least 378 civilians and wounded more than a thousand more, according to a health official inside rebel-controlled territory.

A rebel-linked Web site blamed the attack on the government, while the military accused the beleaguered Tamil Tigers of briefly shelling their own territory to gain international sympathy and force a cease-fire.

About 6 p.m. Sunday, a new round of shelling — less intense than the first — pounded the area, according to Dr. V. Shanmugarajah, who works at a makeshift hospital in the war zone.

A total of 393 people were either brought to the hospital for burial or died at the facility Sunday, he said. Another 37 bodies were brought in Monday morning, he said. More than 1,300 wounded civilians came to the hospital as well, he said.

However, the death toll was likely far higher, he said. Many of the dead are being buried in the bunkers where they had taken refuge and then were killed, and many of the wounded never made it to the hospital for treatment, he said.

"There were many who died without medical attention," Shanmugarajah said. "Seeing the number of wounded and from what the people tell me, I estimate the death toll to be around 1,000."

Reports of the fighting are difficult to verify because the government bars journalists and aid workers from the war zone, but the UN confirmed a heavy toll from the first attack over the weekend.

That attack marked the bloodiest assault on ethnic Tamil civilians since the civil war flared again more than three years ago. Health officials said a hospital in the war zone was overwhelmed by casualties, and the death toll was expected to sharply rise.

"The UN has consistently warned against the bloodbath scenario as we've watched the steady increase in civilian deaths over the last few months," UN spokesman Gordon Weiss said Monday. "The large-scale killing of civilians over the weekend, including the deaths of more than 100 children, shows that that bloodbath has become a reality."

Meanwhile, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and other rights groups called on Japan, the largest international donor to Sri Lanka, to press the UN to urgently discuss the conflict here.

"Formal meetings of the Security Council must be held urgently so that the council can take the necessary measures to address the humanitarian and human rights crisis," the groups said in a letter to Japan's prime minister.

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