The naked man, his hands bound behind his back, is pushed to the ground. Then a man in military uniform delivers a forceful kick to the back of the prisoner's head with the heel of his boot. As the prisoner slumps forward, another soldier points his automatic weapon and fires a single shot. The man's body jolts. "It's like he jumped," laughs one of the giggling soldiers.
As gunfire rattles, the camera pans left to reveal a further seven bloodstained bodies, all handcuffed and bound, and – with one exception – similarly naked, strewn on the ground. The camera then pans right again, as another naked man is forced to the ground and shot in the back of the head. This time the body falls backwards.
These scenes, captured on video, allegedly show extra-judicial killings of Tamils by Sri Lankan troops earlier this year in the bitter and bloody endgame of the country's civil war. As government forces made a decisive thrust into the stronghold of rebel forces to end the decades-long conflict, a Sri Lankan soldier apparently took this footage, which was then smuggled out of the country by activists. It may constitute the first hard evidence for those who believe war crimes were committed in the effort to crush the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). The significance of this footage – particularly shocking for the seemingly casual way in which the killings were carried out – is even greater given the way that journalists and independent observers were prevented by the government from reaching the war zone. The UN has estimated that 10,000 civilians were killed in what was, in effect, a war with no outside witnesses.
Last night the Sri Lankan army dismissed the footage as the latest in a series of fabrications designed to damage the country's image. But campaigners and Tamil politicians said it was vital that a full inquiry be carried out into the alleged killings. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has voiced his support for an investigation into possible war crimes if convincing evidence emerged.
So too has Amnesty International's Asia-Pacific director, Sam Zarifi, who said: "We have received consistent reports that violations of the laws of war, as well as international human rights law, were committed by both sides in the conflict and we call once again for an international, independent and credible investigation into what took place during the final days of the conflict."
The footage was obtained by Journalists for Democracy in Sri Lanka (JDS), an organisation made up of several dozen Sri Lankan journalists who have fled into exile in recent years as the intimidation and killing of media professionals has soared. The group, whose members now live mostly in Europe, said the film was taken by a Sri Lankan soldier in January using his mobile phone as the army was battling to take the LTTE's de facto capital, Kilinochchi.
A spokesman for the group, who asked not be identified, said: "It was as if someone was filming it for fun. This was being circulated by the soldiers. It has been going round for a while. It was taken as if it was a souvenir." He said rumours of such footage had existed for a long time but that this was the first time such film had entered "the mainstream".
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