Sri Lanka to count civil war dead after international pressure

27 November 2013 9:28 PM

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Sri Lanka to count civil war dead after international pressure

SRI Lanka said it would begin a nationwide survey to compile a death toll from its ethnic conflict after international pressure over allegations of mass civilian deaths at the end of the war.

The six-month census would begin today and would see some 16,000 officials fan out across the island to compile a definitive toll, said a government statement posted on President Mahinda Rajapakse's website.

"The Department of Census and Statistics will conduct an island-wide census to assess the loss of human life and damage to property," said the statement.

The survey would be carried out in more than 14,000 villages, the statement added, including in villages in the mainly Tamil north of the island.

While the government has previously spoken of plans to conduct a comprehensive survey, it is the first time that it has set out a timetable.

The announcement comes after Sri Lanka hosted a Commonwealth summit this month which was overshadowed by allegations of war crimes committed by government troops in the final stages of the conflict in May 2009.

UN bodies and rights groups have said that as many as 40,000 civilians may have died in the final phase of the conflict when the army routed the Tamil Tiger rebel movement in its last northern stronghold.

Rajapakse and his mainly ethnic Sinhalese regime have previously insisted that no civilians died in the finale to the war.

The president has also rejected any suggestion of international investigators being allowed to conduct an independent inquiry on Sri Lankan soil, saying that he would only sanction a domestic probe.

Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron has threatened to lead a push for an international probe unless Sri Lanka produces credible results of its own by March.

During the summit, Cameron paid an historic visit to the war-torn Jaffna region where he met with survivors and relatives who had lost loved ones during the war.

The visit infuriated Rajapakse who told his fellow leaders at the Commonwealth summit that the country needed more time to conduct its own investigations.

"Pressure won't do anything. ... It's much better to wait rather than demand or dictate."

The idea of a nationwide survey was one of the recommendations of a government-appointed panel that submitted a report last year.

"The census should enable us to determine the numbers of the dead and the disappeared", Suranjana Waidyaratne, a member of the panel, told reporters late Wednesday.

More than 100,000 people are believed to have been killed during the course of the war, according to previous UN figures.

The war, one of the longest-running and bloodiest civil conflicts in Asia, ended when the Tamil Tiger leader Velupillai Prabhakaran was killed in his final stronghold in the northeast of the island.

While Jaffna held its first provincial elections since the war in September, with the main Tamil party winning by a landslide, the vote was seen as having done little to address long-standing demands for greater autonomy.


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