Sri Lanka’s military yesterday denied it had shelled a makeshift hospital, killing 16 patients, as concern grew for civilians trapped in fighting between government soldiers and Tamil rebels.
“We did not fire at this location on Monday and it is quite possible that the LTTE attacked them,” said military spokesman Brigadier Udaya Nanayakkara, referring to the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, or Tamil Tigers.
The guerrillas, cornered in the north of the country in an area of less than 100km² and seemingly close to defeat, were also stopping civilians fleeing rebel-held areas, the spokesman said.
His comments came after the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said the hospital was shelled. The organization did not say who was responsible for the attack, but urged government forces and the rebels to spare non-combatants.
“We are shocked that patients are not afforded the protection they are entitled to,” said Paul Castella, head of the ICRC delegation in Colombo. “Once more, we call on both parties to meet their obligation under international humanitarian law to spare at all times the wounded and sick people, medical personnel and medical facilities.”
News of the shelling on the temporary hospital in Putumattalan came as civilians poured across the frontlines out of territory held by the Tigers, who have battled since 1972 for an independent Tamil homeland.
The military has accused the LTTE of gunning down 19 civilians and wounding another 75 who tried to escape from the dwindling territory still under rebel control on Tuesday.