6,500 Civilians Dead as Sri Lanka War Nears End

Army, rebels both accused of exacerbating death toll
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Apr 24, 2009 6:03 AM CDT
Children are seen outside tents at a displacement camp in Vavuniya, Sri Lanka, on Tuesday, April 21, 2009. Some 180,000 civilians pouring out of Sri Lanka's war zone now live in government camps.   (Asanga Warnakulasuriya)
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(Newser) – Nearly 6,500 ethnic Tamil civilians have been killed in the last 3 months of fighting in Sri Lanka, the UN estimates. The level of civilian deaths has increased dramatically as the bloody 26-year civil war draws to a close, with the army pressing Tamil separatists into a tiny coastal strip. International rights groups have accused the army of shelling civilian areas and accused the rebels of using civilians as human shields.

This morning, two top Indian officials met with Sri Lanka's president to demand an immediate ceasefire, but the military said it was pushing ahead with its offensive. The Sri Lankan government said that it took care to avoid civilian casualties—but according to the UN, more than 5,500 of those killed were inside a government-declared no-fire zone.