Sri Lanka denies war crimes in domestic probe

August 17, 2010 (AFP) – Sri Lanka’s powerful defence chief Tuesday staunchly defended the government’s human rights record, saying troops suffered heavy losses to avoid civilian casualties during last year’s assault on Tamil Tiger rebels. Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapakse said foreign diplomats and aid agencies had lauded his measures to protect civilians during the major military campaign against the Tigers, who were crushed in May last year.

Rajapakse told a government-appointed Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission 6,000 troops were killed and 30,000 wounded during the “humanitarian mission” to free ethnic Tamil civilians from the grip of the rebels.

“We took great care to avoid civilians. It was a difficult period for us. Our military had to stop operations and give protection to people, food convoys,” Rajapakse said in Colombo.

He gave no estimates for rebel or civilian casualties.

“It was difficult for us to identify who (civilians) were … nobody knows how many (casualties) and nobody talks about it,” he said.

However, the United Nations has estimated at least 7,000 civilians were killed in the first four months of fighting last year, while international rights groups say the figure coul