Sri Lankan FM denies 20,000 Tamils killed in final onslaught: report

LONDON, June 6, 2009 (AFP) – Sri Lanka’s Foreign Minister Rohitha Bogollagama has denied claims that more than 20,000 Tamil civilians were killed during the government’s final onslaught against rebels, a report said Saturday.

Bogollagama told The Times that the newspaper was wrong to report last week that so many civilians had died in the island’s so-called no-fire zone, most of them from Sri Lankan army shelling.

“Within the no-fire zone we never returned fire because we would never have taken that degree of chance for inflicting harm on civilians,” the minister told The Times on a visit to London on Friday.

“Nothing could have provoked us to fire on civilians,” he stressed.

According to the British daily, Bogollagama blamed all civilian deaths on Tamil Tiger rebels and maintained his government’s line that not one single civilian had died as a result of army action.

Last month’s final onslaught ended Asia’s longest civil war while The Times said its own assessment that more than 20,000 civilians had lost their lives was three times the official casualty figure.

UN chief Ban Ki-moon on Friday warned the Sri Lankan government against “triumphalism” after its recent defeat of the Tamil separatis