Sri Lankan government voices ‘regret’ over refugee killings

Nov 9, 2006 (AFP) – Sri Lanka’s government Thursday expressed “regret” over the killing of some 65 civilians in an artillery blitz on the rebel-held east of the island, but blamed the Tamil Tigers for using human shields. Government defence spokesman Keheliya Rambukwella said the military had targeted two Tamil Tiger artillery positions in Wednesday’s attack in the eastern district of Batticaloa, but admitted a civilian centre was also hit.

“While we regret this whole episode, we also must say that national security is uppermost in our minds,” Rambukwella told reporters. “Actions by the defence authorities were inevitable.”

The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), he said, had been firing mortar and artillery at government positions, as well as civilian settlements, in the region for over a week.

“The LTTE is using humans as shields to cover their operations,” Media Minister Anura Yapa also said. “This is exactly what happened when they fired artillery and mortars from that end to the government side.”

Nordic monitors said government forces had fired rockets at two school buildings housing a large number of displaced Tamil civilians.

Rambukwella said the Norwegian-led Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission (