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Sri Lanka war’s toll may be low

NEW DELHI – A U.N. panel has called for an independent investigation of “credible” allegations that tens of thousands of civilians were killed in the final stages of the Sri Lankan civil war two years ago.

The fatality estimate used by the three-member expert panel is significantly higher than the 7,000 civilian deaths cited by the United Nations near the end of the bloody conflict, although it’s unlikely that an exact figure will ever be established.

The panel, led by former Indonesian Attorney General Marzuki Darusman, called on U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to set up an independent investigation into alleged human rights violations committed by both sides.

Much of the report, to be released this week, was leaked to Sri Lanka’s Island newspaper, which published extracts Saturday. It comes down hard on the government of President Mahinda Rajapaksa, accusing it of deliberately shelling civilians, aid agencies and hospitals.

It also accuses the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, also known as the Tamil Tigers, of forcibly recruiting ethnic Tamil citizens to fill the rebel group’s declining ranks of fighters.

The report said the group killed other Tamils who tried to flee.

Sri Lanka, which has been highly critical of the international scrutiny, condemned the report, copies of which were given to Ban and the Sri Lankan government Tuesday.

The panel said in its report that the government systematically shelled hospitals on the front lines, even though the government was well aware of their location.

The Tamils finally acknowledged defeat in May 2009.


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