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UN suspects Sri Lanka war crimes.

3/14/2009 2:36:07 AM

The United Nations high commissioner for human rights has voiced deep concern over the plight of civilians in war-ravaged Sri Lanka, saying both the government and the rebel Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) may be committing war crimes.

Navi Pillay on Friday also urged both the sides to halt hostilities to allow the evacuation of civilians trapped on the northeastern coast.

Pillay said the government had repeatedly shelled the designated "no-fire" zones for civilians and also cited reports the separatist fighters were holding civilians as human shields and had shot some as they tried to flee.

"Certain actions being undertaken by the Sri Lankan military and by the LTTE may constitute violations of international human rights and humanitarian law," Pillay said in a statement.

"The world today is ever sensitive about such acts that could amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity," the former UN war crimes judge, who is a member of the Tamil ethnic group and grew up in South Africa, said.

'Truly shocking'

Pillay called on Sri Lanka's government to grant full access to UN and other aid agencies to monitor human rights and humanitarian conditions amid reports of "severe malnutrition" among those trapped.

"The current level of civilian casualties is truly shocking and there are legitimate fears that the loss of life may reach catastrophic levels, if the fighting continues in this way," Pillay said.

"The brutal and inhuman treatment of civilians by the LTTE is utterly reprehensible and should be examined to see if it constitutes war crimes."

Walter Kaelin, the UN secretary-general's representative on the human rights of internally displaced persons, also voiced grave concern at reports of LTTE rebels using civilians as shields and preventing them from leaving the conflict zone.

Kaelin also stressed that Sri Lanka's government must protect and assist civilians fleeing the fighting, as well as avoid confining them to camps.

But P Ramasamy, a former member of the LTTE-run Tamil constitutional affairs committee, said "the situation is more complex than meets the eye of the UN High Commissioner of Human Rights".

"While the fighting is going on the maximum damage is inflicted on the civilians by the Sri Lankan armed forces," he told Al Jazeera.

Sri Lanka's military has encircled the LTTE, also known as the Tamil Tigers, in a mere 37sq km of the island nation's northeastern coast and is fighting to deal a death blow to a civil war that has raged off and on since 1983.

More than 2,800 civilians may have been killed and more than 7,000 wounded since January 20, according to a range of credible sources. Many had been inside the "no-fire" zones, the UN says.

The LTTE is seeking a separate homeland in the country's north and east for the ethnic Tamils, accusing the Sinhala dominated Sri Lankan government of marginalising the Tamil minority. 2003 - 2009

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Date:Mar 14, 2009
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