Independent journalists, for the first time, have been given a brief aerial look at the battlefield where Sri Lanka defeated Tamil rebels who once controlled one-third of the island nation. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman was on one of the helicopters taking the United Nations Secretary General and his delegation for a quick flyover of the last combat zone. 

I am in a Sri Lankan Air Force helicopter less than 100 meters above where the final battle took place between the military and the Tamil Tiger rebels. This is where the quarter-century civil war came to an end with the total battlefield defeat of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam.

There are no signs of civilian life here. There are a few Army vehicles and soldiers combing the area, I can see a stray dog and an emptied container truck of the World Food Program.

There are rows and rows of uninhabited tents, holes in the ground from crater shells and clusters of palm trees with their tops blown off or reduced to stumps.

Civilians who escaped say they were held as human shields by the rebels, took refuge in bunkers and were shot at by the Tamil Tigers if they tried to escape. But they also reported heavy shelling during the war's final days.

What precisely happened below will be the subject of controversy for some time to come. The European Union and others want a war crimes investigation. Some also accuse the military of deliberately shelling the area and say satellite images will back up their contention.