Scores ‘killed’ in bombardment

Colombo, May 13:

A makeshift hospital at Mullivaikal bears brunt

Dozens of civilians trapped in Tamil Tiger territory in northeast Sri Lanka were reported killed in shelling today, as both sides in the war faced renewed condemnation over the carnage.

A doctor working at a makeshift hospital at Mullivaikal, inside the tiny strip of territory still held by the rebels, said three shells slammed into the facility, leaving at least 50 dead and 60 others wounded.

Two hospital employees were among those killed, Dr T Varatharajah said.

The International Committee of the Red Cross, the only neutral organisation present in the area, said one of its local employees and his mother also died in shell fire but did not say who it believed was responsible.

The rebels blamed advancing government forces for the bombardment, which came the day after 47 civilians died in a similar attack, the doctor said, and in the wake of weekend attacks that the United Nations described as a “bloodbath.”

“The injured people are now being treated under trees and by the roadside,” Tiger spokesman S. Puleethevan said by telephone.

But the island’s government, which says it has the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) surrounded in just four square kilometres of northeastern coastal jungle, said only the rebels were killing civilians.

“We are not using heavy weapons,” a government spokesman said.

“It is part of the LTTE’s propaganda to talk about army shelling and civilian casualties. They themselves have been attacking civilians to blame us.” Military spokesman Brigadier Udaya Nanayakkara also said LTTE fighters were continuing to fight to the death — with the rebels mounting a ferocious counter-attack earlier in the day and at least 10 guerrillas dying in a wave of suicide boat strikes along the coast.

“We have successfully repulsed their counter-attacks and search operations are now under way,” Nanayakkara said. Several government troops were reported wounded, but no further details were given.

The Colombo government estimates up to 20,000 civilians are being held in the pocket where the LTTE are holed up, although the United Nations has said as many as 50,000 may be trapped — huddled in shallow bunkers and with scant food, water or medical facilities.

Human Rights Watch blamed both sides for the growing civilian death toll.

“Recent satellite photos and witness accounts show the brutal shelling of civilians in the conflict area goes on,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at the US-based rights watchdog.

The group also described witness accounts of how the Tigers — who have been fighting for a separate state since the 1970s and once controlled a third of the island — murdered anyone who tried to cross into government territory. But, the government offensive in the past few months has put paid to their hopes of asserting their political supremacy.