Two top Indian officials headed Friday to Sri Lanka to demand an immediate cease-fire in the bloody civil war as a private U.N. document reported that nearly 6,500 ethnic Tamil civilians were killed in the last three months of fighting.
Concern for the safety of the civilians trapped in the war zone has increased in recent weeks as the government pushed ahead with its offensive to crush the Tamil Tiger rebels and end the nation's quarter-century civil war.
On Monday, the military broke through rebel fortifications on the edge of a previously declared "no fire" zone along the northeastern coast, sparking an exodus of more than 100,000 civilians. The rebels said at least 1,000 civilians were killed in that battle and the Red Cross said hundreds had been killed or wounded.
Neighboring India, under pressure from its own Tamil population in the midst of a national election, was sending National Security Adviser M. K. Narayanan and Foreign Secretary Shivshankar Monen to Sri Lanka on Friday to push for a cease-fire.
'All killing must stop'
"We are very unhappy at the continued killing in Sri Lanka. All killing must stop. There must be an immediate cessation of all hostilities," External Affairs Ministry spokesman Vishu Prakash said in a statement Thursday.
International rights groups have accused the government of shelling densely populated civilian areas in the war zone and accused the rebels of holding the civilians hostage for use as human shields against the government offensive. Both sides deny the accusations.
At least 6,432 civilians were killed in the intense fighting over the past three months and 13,946 wounded, according to a private U.N. document circulated among diplomatic missions in Sri Lanka in recent days. The casualties were reported as "verified data" in the document, which was given to The Associated Press by a foreign diplomat Friday.
The U.N. has declined to publicly release its casualty figures and had no immediate comment on the document.
The level of civilian deaths has increased dramatically as the fighting has worn on, according to the U.N. An average of 33 civilians were killed each day at the end of January, a number that jumped to 116 by April, the document reported.
The rebels have been fighting to create an independent homeland for ethnic minority Tamils, who have faced decades of marginalization by governments controlled by the ethnic Sinhalese majority.
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