Tamil council to count Sri Lanka war casualties

Updated 26 December 2013
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Tamil council to count Sri Lanka war casualties

COLOMBO: The provincial government in Sri Lanka’s main Tamil region said Thursday it would compile its own death toll from the country’s ethnic war, saying an ongoing census would play down the number of casualties.
Tamil officials said the census ordered by President Mahinda Rajapakse last month would give a distorted picture because of its “flawed” terms of reference, arguing that a more credible alternative was needed.
“The council will work out the logistics of taking a count,” Dharmalingam Sithadthan, a senior member of the Northern Provincial Council, told AFP from the regional capital Jaffna.
“This is something we have to do because we don’t accept the government census.”
The United Nations has estimated that at least 100,000 people were killed in Sri Lanka’s 37-year separatist war with about 40,000 civilians killed in the final months of fighting in 2009.
The Rajapakse government kicked off its own census late November after disputes over the scale of the killings in the final phases of the war dominated a Commonwealth summit in Colombo earlier in the month.
Sri Lanka has repeatedly rejected allegations that its troops killed civilians while battling the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, who were also accused of using civilians as a human shield.
While launching the government census in November, the head of the Public Administration Ministry, P.B Abeykoon, said they had “nothing to hide.”
But Suresh Premachandran, a member of the Tamil National Alliance party who represents Jaffna in the Parliament, said the census had been designed to minimise the death toll.
Compilers of the census would only be able to ask survivors whether they had lost spouses, sons or daughters and would not be allowed to ask survivors about the fate of their parents, said Premachandran.
The census would also lack any input about casualties from survivors who have sought refuge.
“We strongly believe this is an attempt to give lower figures for war fatalities,” Premachandran said.
“For planning purposes of the council, we want the actual numbers, not watered down figures,” he added.
The provincial council says it needs comprehensive casualty figures to provide social services to widows, orphans and other victims of what was one of Asia’s longest and bloodiest conflicts in the post-colonial era.
Rajapakse, who is a member of the majority Sinhalese community, has rejected proposals for international investigators to conduct their own separate inquiry.


India military opens Kerala base to commercial flights

Updated 16 min 52 sec ago
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India military opens Kerala base to commercial flights

  • The first flight landed at the Indian naval air station in the city of Kochi
  • Kerala has been battered by torrential downpours since August 8

ALAPPUZHA, India: The Indian military opened an air base to commercial flights Monday in the flood-savaged southern state of Kerala to help speed in relief and fly out residents.
The first flight landed at the Indian naval air station in the city of Kochi, where the commercial airport has been closed for nearly a week. The Air India flight came from the city of Bangalore in the nearby state of Karnataka, Suresh Prabhu, the minister of civil aviation, said on Twitter.
Other air bases in the region should open to commercial traffic soon, he said.
Kerala has been battered by torrential downpours since Aug. 8. Floods and landslides have killed at least 250 people in Kerala since then, with about 800,000 people taking shelter in some 4,000 relief camps.
Thousands of people are taking shelter in small camps in this coastal town. Many are set up in schools, but at least one is on the grounds of a mosque, where Christians, Hindus and Muslims have all found food and a place to sleep.
The town itself, which is on slightly higher ground, has escaped the worst of the flooding, but the situation is far grimmer just a few kilometers (a couple miles away)
“The water came almost up to my head,” said Ullas, a 48-year-old man who uses only one name, and who fled his village for the safety of the town.
He has no idea when he’ll be able to come back. “We don’t know,” he said, as he helped distribute food in one relief center. “It could take a month.”
With rains decreasing, the water has started receding in parts of Kerala but thousands of people remain cut off and in need of help.
Officials have called it the worst flooding in Kerala in a century, with rainfall in some areas well over double that of a typical monsoon season.
Officials have put initial storm damage estimates at nearly $3 billion.