‘Deaths were unavoidable’
The Sri Lankan government last month acknowledged for the first time that there were civilian casualties in the final phase of the civil war against the Tamil Tiger rebels but termed them as unavoidable.
A Defense Ministry report said, “…it was impossible to avoid civilian deaths despite its best efforts, given the magnitude of the fighting and ruthlessness of the opponent.” The government had so far maintained that noncombatants were not among the war dead because it adhered to a zero civilian casualty policy.
The report analyzed the events of the war and denied allegations of human rights violations and prisoner executions by Sri Lankan troops during the hostilities. “The government of Sri Lanka made every effort to protect civilians in the conflict zone through the creation of safe corridors and no-fire zones by adhering to a zero civilian casualty policy that had been conveyed to all troops through repeated training and operational orders,” the report said. The report, however did not say how many civilians may have been killed.
The report came against the backdrop of a UN panel reporting earlier this year that said it had found credible allegations of serious human rights violations involving both the government troops and Tamil Tiger rebels, some of which could amount to war crimes. It called for an independent international investigation.
Sri Lanka’s powerful Defense Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa accused the defeated Tamil Tigers and members of a strong Tamil expatriate community of spreading the allegations to discredit the country.