Sri Lankan officials are rejecting claims that the government may have
committed war crimes during intense fighting with Tamil Tiger rebels in
Sri Lanka's human rights minister, Mahinda Samarasinghe, on Saturday rejected charges by the U.N.'s human rights chief that both sides in the civil war are responsible for the deaths of up to 2,800 civilians since January, many of them inside no-fire zones.
The U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, said Friday that Sri Lanka's military has repeatedly shelled safe zones. She also accused rebels of holding civilians as human shields.
Samarasinghe called the charges "unsubstantiated" and denied the government had shelled civilian safe zones.
The United Nations says 150,000 to 180,000 civilians are trapped in a shrinking area of rebel territory in northeastern Sri Lanka's Mullaitivu district. Sri Lanka's government has put the figure at 70,000 civilians.
On Friday, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton telephoned Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapakse to express U.S. concern over the loss of life in Sri Lanka's government-designated "safe zone." She also condemned the actions of the Tamil rebels.
Sri Lanka's government says it is on the verge of defeating the Tamil Tigers. The ethnic minority rebels have been fighting for an independent homeland since 1983.
Some information for this report was provided by AFP and AP.