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Huge civilian toll in Lanka war: Indian doc

Jun 7, 2010 10:40:34 PM- transcurrents.com

by Sutirtho Patranobis

One year after the end of the Sri Lankan civil war, one of the Indian doctors who treated Tamil refugees during the last months of the conflict says there were "massive casualties" among the civilian population.

The Sri Lankan government has denied any targeted killing of civilians and contested figures by the United Nations that 7,000 civilians died in the final phase of the conflict.

"We were not prepared (for what we saw) when we reached the camp… the extent of injuries… long lines of people," the doctor told HT over phone from India, speaking on condition of anonymity.

"We were overwhelmed by what we saw. It was clear the people (the internally displaced) had been battered." This is probably the only eyewitness account from the battle zone.

"We were treating hundreds of patients every day. Shell injuries, bullet injuries. More than 80 per cent of these patients said either someone in their family or in a family they knew was killed or injured. Nearly 80 to 90 of the 120-odd patients had a story of death or injury to recollect," the doctor said.

"Someone lost her husband, someone's parents died and someone's neighbour had bullet injuries. Families from Kilinochchi and Mullaitivu districts were the worse-hit."

The war ended on May 18, 2009. Between June 1 and August 31, the team of doctors, nurses and paramedics — of which the doctor was a part — treated more than 40,000 Tamils in a camp in the northern district of Vavuniya.

This would mean, based on the doctor's 80 per cent figure, casualties — deaths and wounded — in the region of 30,000.

The patients who were treated at the Indian camp were among the 300,000 displaced civilians who fled the so-called ‘no fire zone' declared on a sliver of land on the northeast coast of Mullaitivu where they were trapped from February 2009.

But the ‘no fire zone' was, in fact, a battlefield and saw pitched battles between the government and the Liberation Tamil Tigers of Eelam rebels.

About 10,000 children were treated by the Indian team for disease, infection and injuries. "We treated children with bullet and shell injuries. Even infants had bullet injuries. If children cannot be protected, the situation of adults could only be worse. More than 80 per cent of the children were malnourished."

Every morning, the doctors conducted an "injection parade" for adults and children with infections. "Lots of infections were contracted in the camps."

Why did he decide to speak now?

"I thought even after a year, not many were aware of what happened... the carnage… things were being brushed under the carpet." - Courtesy: Hindustan Times -