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UN Official Hints at War Crimes in Sri Lanka

The U.N. human rights office says war crimes and crimes against humanity may have been committed during the conflict in Sri Lanka, possibly by both the government and Tamil Tiger rebels. 

Two months ago, the U.N.'s top human rights official, Navi Pillay, called on the Sri Lankan government and Tamil Tiger rebels to immediately suspend hostilities.   She warned the number of civilian deaths could reach catastrophic levels.  She put both warring parties on notice that they may possibly have committed war crimes and crimes against humanity.

The High Commissioner's spokesman, Rupert Colville, says since she expressed these concerns, nothing has happened to change her mind. 

"Quite the contrary," he said.  "Thousands more civilians are believed to have been killed or injured.  Heavy shelling of areas populated by civilians has continued, more evidence has emerged about the LTTE [Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam] forcing civilians to stay against their will in the conflict zone, and shooting at or even killing some who tried to escape." 

Nearly 200,000 Tamil civilians in northern Sri Lanka have become displaced since the government began its so-called fight to the finish against the Tamil Tiger rebels early this year.  The two sides have been engaged in a civil war for more than a quarter of a century.

An estimated 50,000 people remain trapped in the tiny conflict zone.  Thousands of civilians reportedly have been killed and many thousands more wounded.  The United Nations has called on both warring parties to end this bloodbath.  It said the Tamil Tigers must stop using the civilians as human shields and let them leave the conflict zone.

At the same time, the United Nations has told the government it must fulfill its commitment not to use heavy weapons and to exercise maximum restraint.

Colville noted that the clashes over the past week or so have drawn strong criticism from the U.N. secretary-general, other Senior officials and an increasing number of worried governments.

He notes three U.N. special investigators recently called for an independent Commission of Inquiry into the conduct of the Sri Lankan conflict.

"We agree that something of that sort is now essential," said Colville. "There has to be accountability of what has gone on in Sri Lanka.  There has to be clarity and there cannot be impunity." 

U.N. aid agencies report they are blocked from entering the conflict zone and assisting the civilians.  The World Food Program says a major shipment of food has not reached the area since April first.  It says only small amounts of food have been allowed in and that is likely to run out in a matter of days.  

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