UN denounces Lankan civilian ‘bloodbath’

COLOMBO: The United Nations today condemned a civilian “bloodbath” in Sri Lanka, saying more than 100 children had been killed in weekend shelling that the government and rebels blamed on each other.

Artillery strikes in the small stretch of coastline still held by the Tamil Tiger guerrillas in the northeast of the island nation caused major casualties among the tens of thousands of non-combatants, both sides reported.

“The large scale killing of civilians, including the death of over 100 children, over the weekend shows that the bloodbath scenario has become a reality,” said Gordon Weiss, the UN spokesman.

The rebels said the civilians had died as the military pressed ahead with its offensive, but the defence ministry accused the Tigers of firing mortars to create a humanitarian crisis and attract foreign intervention.

“They are bombarding their own civilians with heavy weapons to lay the blame on the Sri Lankan forces,” the ministry said in a statement. “This will attract the foreign countries to throw a lifeline to save their souls.” The government today said 250 civilians had been killed or wounded in the attacks blamed on the rebels, adding that it had lodged an official protest against the UN’s “bloodbath” description.

The pro-rebel Tamilnet website said that the weekend death toll had risen to 3,200. Casualty claims from the war zone are impossible to verify as journalists and international monitors are not allowed to travel freely in the area.

The government believes its soldiers are on the verge of defeating the LTTE after 37 years of conflict.