The United Nations is condemning the killing of hundreds of Sri Lanka's ethnic Tamil civilians from repeated shelling in recent days, calling it a "bloodbath." Medical workers say they have counted the bodies of 430 people, including more than 100 children, but believe many more died during two days of intense shelling. Some nations want the U.N. Security Council to take action.
International condemnation is mounting following the heavy artillery barrage in the last remaining combat zone in northeastern Sri Lanka.
The U.N. estimates between 50,000 and 100,000 civilians are trapped in the war zone. Sri Lanka's government says it is trying to rescue these people it regards as "human shields" of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam.
A statement from the U.N. Secretary General's office says Ban Ki-moon is "appalled" by the carnage and calls on both sides not to use heavy weapons.
U.N. spokesman Gordon Weiss in Colombo tells VOA News the world body gives credence to the reports from the government doctors inside the combat zone who say they witnessed two days of repeated shelling. "We're saying that a bloodbath has occurred over the weekend," he said.
Sri Lanka's Foreign Ministry took umbrage with Weiss' characterization of the situation and formally protested his remark to the U.N. representative here. The government says the doctors citing the casualties are either LTTE sympathizers or are under pressure by the rebels to make such statements.
The rebels blame the latest shelling on the military and claim more than 2,000 Tamil civilians have perished as a result.
The military vehemently denies troops are firing artillery into the tiny sliver of coastal land still held by the LTTE. Sri Lankan officials contend the Tamil Tigers are murdering their own people in an attempt to blame the carnage on the military.
The war zone is off limits for journalists and international observers so there is no way to independently verify either the accounts of the military or the rebels.
Speaking to reporters at the United Nations Monday, British Foreign Secretary David Milliband, flanked by his Austrian and French counterparts called for Security Council attention on Sri Lanka. "It does have ramifications for the region. And it involves the word of a member of the United Nations not to use heavy weaponry in the pursuit of its goals to suppress a terrorist organization. Those are fundamental issues that we, as European members of the Security Council, do believe belongs here," he said.
Diplomats say several key member states, including China, Russia and Japan oppose a formal Council session.
Sri Lanka's military says it is on the verge of vanquishing the LTTE, which has waged a violent campaign for decades to split the island and create an independent Tamil homeland in the north.
The government has rejected repeated calls for a humanitarian cease-fire. It argues that would only allow the rebels, considered a terrorist organization, to regroup and re-arm.