LTTE blames Sri Lankan govt

Colombo: Sri Lanka’s Tamil Tiger rebels today accused the government of killing more than 2,000 civilians in 24 hours of artillery attacks, but the military denied the allegations.

The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) said in a statement posted on the 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 257 bodies had been brought to a makeshift hospital that was overwhelmed with hundreds of injured casualties. Many of the dead were “found in bunkers and inside the tarpaulin tents,” it said.

The military dismissed the claims as propaganda, and said the guerrillas themselves had carried out the attack 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 are banned from travelling freely in the area.

A British television news team was expelled from Sri Lanka today 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. 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 LTTE, ho want an independent Tamil homeland in the Sinhalese-majority island, controlled roughly a third of the island. The government has refused all international calls for a ceasefire despite reports from the UN last month saying up to 6,500 civilians may have been killed and 14,000 wounded in fighting since January.