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Sri Lanka refutes UN casualty figures

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BANGKOK, THAILAND – A diplomatic row is escalating over civilian casualties in Sri Lanka’s war with the Tamil Tigers. The two sides are in the midst of a military showdown in a coastal strip of jungle in the island's northeast corner.

Western nations are calling for a pause in the fighting to allow for the evacuation of up to 180,000 trapped people, but Sri Lanka is pushing back. In particular, the government is challenging the United Nation's assessment of suffering among this cornered population. The government was angered following a senior UN official's recent warning that both sides in the conflict may have committed war crimes.

Last week, the Monitor reported that UN documents attributed escalating deaths and injuries to Army shelling in a no-fire zone (see the Monitor's story here).

On an official visit to Thailand, Sri Lankan foreign minister Rohitha Bogollagama wasted no time in refuting these claims. He said that he had called in the UN’s country coordinator in Sri Lanka to ask him to retract “unauthenticated, unreliable figures” on civilian casualties. The UN had been “misled on the figures,” Mr. Bogollagama told reporters.

“Here is where the UN coordinator agrees with me, that he can’t vouch for the reliability of the figures,” he said Thursday.

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