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UN Rights Chief Accuses Sri Lanka And Tamil Tigers of Possible War Crimes 

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The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay accused the Sri Lankan military and Tamil Tiger rebels of actions that may constitute war crimes and violations of international human rights and humanitarian law. She said both parties are putting thousands of civilians at risk and is calling on them stop fighting immediately.

This is the toughest statement issued by the UN's top human rights official on the conduct of the war in Sri Lanka. Navi Pillay said she is extremely alarmed at the increasing number of civilians reported killed and injured in the conflict in northern Sri Lanka.

Her spokesman, Rupert Colville, said High Commissioner Pillay is very upset at the apparent ruthless disregard shown by

U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navanethem Pillay at the 10th Human Right Council meeting in Geneva, Switzerland, 02 Mar 2009
U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navanethem Pillay at the 10th Human Right Council meeting in Geneva, Switzerland, 02 Mar 2009

y positions.

"Other areas holding civilians have also been shelled. A range of credible sources have indicated that more than 2,800 civilians have been killed and 7,500 injured since the 20th of January, many of them inside the no-fire zones. The casualties are believed to include hundreds of children killed and more than 1,000 injured," he said.

The Tamil Tigers have been fighting for an independent state for more than one-quarter of a century. About 70,000 people are estimated to have been killed and tens of thousands made homeless in this long-running civil war.

A few months ago, the Sri Lankan military began an all-out offensive to defeat the rebels once and for all. By all accounts, they appear to be winning. But, victory is coming with a very heavy price in civilian casualties.

Colville said the United Nations estimates up to 180,000 civilians remain trapped in an every-shrinking area of territory in the Vanni region.

"The current level of civilian casualties, which could be more than 10,000 in all, if you add the killed and injured, is truly shocking. And, there are legitimate fears that the loss of life may reach catastrophic levels, if the fighting continues in this way," Colville said. "The LTTE, the Tamil Tigers, are reported to be continuing to hold civilians as human shields, and to have shot at civilians trying to leave the area they control. They are also believed to have been forcibly recruiting civilians, including children, as soldiers," he said.

Ethnic Tamils grieve after identifying bodies of relatives killed while fleeing Tamil Tiger controlled territory in Vishwamadu, (2009 file photo)
Ethnic Tamils grieve after identifying bodies of relatives killed while fleeing Tamil Tiger controlled territory in Vishwamadu, (2009 file photo)

UN aid agencies reported that there is limited food in the Vanni region. They said severe malnutrition is on the rise and key medical supplies are virtually gone.

High Commissioner Pillay called the brutal and inhuman treatment of civilians by the Tamil Tigers utterly reprehensible and said it should be examined to see if it constitutes war crimes.

The rebels have not commented. But, the Sri Lankan government said it is very disappointed in. what it called, the unprofessional statement by the High Commissioner.

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