Over 200 civilians killed in Sri Lanka fighting since July: monitors+
Thu September 28, 2006 10:30 EDT .
Associated Press Writer
COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (AP) _ At least 200 civilians have died in two months of fighting between government soldiers and separatist Tamil rebels in Sri Lanka, European cease-fire monitors said Thursday.
The figure was released as the government announced that Australian forensic experts will visit the country next week to probe last month's killing of 17 aid workers.
Since large-scale hostilities broke out in late July, ``over 200 civilians have been killed and several thousands are internally displaced, creating a serious humanitarian crisis,'' the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission said in a report sent to the government and Tamil Tiger leaders.
The monitors accused both sides of serious violations of the cease-fire, including risking civilian lives, creating a refugee crisis, denying people access to food and blocking the entry of monitors and aid workers into conflict areas for investigations and to help trapped civilians.
The monitors said ``the gravity of the violations have led to a dangerous escalation in hostilities.''
``It is important that the parties realize the seriousness of the current situation and do whatever there is in their power to move forward instead of engaging in military confrontation,'' the monitors said in a statement.
The fighting began with a government offensive in eastern Sri Lanka to open an irrigation reservoir closed by the Tamil Tiger rebels. As the conflict spread to other areas, the government captured some strategic territories held by the rebels in the north and east.
At least 1,000 combatants and civilians were killed and some 220,000 people were forced to flee their homes.
The execution-style killing of 17 Sri Lankan aid workers of Action Against Hunger last month and the hacking deaths of 10 Muslim laborers on Sept. 17 in eastern Sri Lanka were among the worst incidents of violence against the civilians.
The foreign ministry announced on Thursday that Australian forensic experts will visit Sri Lanka next week to help probe the killing of the aid workers in the northeastern town of Muttur.
According to the terms, the experts will ``observe and at the request of Sri Lanka authorities, provide technical advice and assistance in the conduct of forensic investigations,'' the ministry statement said.
Nordic truce monitors have accused government troops of being behind the killings, a charge vehemently denied by the government.
Meanwhile, 12 international aid organization representatives met on Wednesday with the rebels' political head, Suppiah Thamilselvan, and discussed ways to provide humanitarian aid to people affected by the fighting and to boost security for aid workers, the groups said in a joint statement.
A similar meeting had previously been held with Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapakse's office, the statement said.
Foreign diplomats are struggling to revive a Norway-brokered cease-fire and a peace process severely undermined by the fighting.
The Tamil rebels began fighting in 1983 for a separate homeland for Tamils, Sri Lanka's largest ethnic minority, citing decades of discrimination by the Sinhalese majority. About 66,000 people died in nearly two decades of violence before the 2002 cease-fire.
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Published: Thu Sep 28 11:37:28 EDT 2006