UN withheld civilian casualty figures to protect Sri Lankan state - report

[TamilNet, Wednesday, 18 March 2009, 17:01 GMT]
Publishing two leaked documents by the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, Matthew Russell Lee of Inner City Press at the UN, in an exclusive report on Wednesday revealed that the United Nations office had its own estimates of casualty figures. The UN had internal documentation for 9,924 civilian casualties including 2,683 killings and 7,241 injuries since 20 January to 07 March 2009. "Now it appears that unlike in other conflicts from Darfur to Gaza, the UN withheld the Sri Lanka figures, in effect protecting the Sri Lankan government from criticism," the Inner City Press reported Wednesday. The report comes as the Sri Lankan government was trying to discredit TamilNet figures, fearing that the UN-referred casualty figures were based on TamilNet coverage.

"Between January and 12 February, the reporting network was spread over a broad area. Since most civilians are now in the small No Fire Zone (NFZ), including the reporting network - the information is better. The assumption is that the casualties were greatly under-reported prior to 12 February," said the UN document which put the total minimum number of documented civilian casualties since 20 January 2009 as of 07 March 2009 in the conflict area of Mullaiththeevu district: 9,924 people including 2,683 deaths and 7,241 injuries.

Between January and February 2009 the combat area was reduced from 100 square km to 45 square km, including the NFZ of 14 square km. As the combat area reduces, the daily average shows an increase in the number of killed (from 33 to 63) and a slight decrease in the number of injured (from 184 to 145). This is due to increased density, the use of heavy weapons which continue to strike the NFZ and inadequate medical treatment.

Two thirds of the documented casualties occurred in the No Fire Zone (NFZ), according to the UN report obtained by the Inner City Press.

Another UN document on the food delivery to the IDPS in Vanni said: "After several weeks of reports of food shortages, it's highly predicted that mortality could set in as a significant number of the IDP population is reportedly weakened and the likelihood of malnutrition across the same population group could translate into a rapid increase of nutritional and health deterioration."

"Food stocks are on standby outside the Vanni but delivery of required food to IDPs is restricted by GOSL [Government of Sri Lanka] access. The latest negotiation with the Government allowed 500 MT mixed food commodities to be dispatched, using the sea."

"We need to send to the NFZ at least 3,000 MT of food per month for a caseload of 200,000 people."

Vimal Weerawansa
Wimal Weerawansa
As Sri Lankan government ministers were engaged in a propaganda campaign against the figures referred by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mr. Weerawansa, an extreme Sinhala nationalist leader aligned with the Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa, had issued a public threat against the UN office in Colombo hinting that the office would be attacked. He had said "people" would be compelled to surround the UN office in large numbers if it persisted with the move, which he described as a UN-led conspiracy to prosecute Sri Lanka over alleged war crimes.

External Links:
ICP: In N. Sri Lanka, 2,683 Civilian Killings This Year, UN Leaked Documents Show


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