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Lanka to begin counting casualties of war today

Last updated on: November 29, 2013 10:11 IST

Sri Lanka, under global pressure over its human rights record, on Thursday launched a six-month census to count the number of casualties during the final phase of the brutal civil war against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam in 2009.

Some 16,000 officials would gather information from 14,000 villages nationwide from today until December 20.

"The government has nothing to hide. A lot of people have come out with various accusations with their own figures. We will come out with real facts," P B Abeykoon, Secretary to the ministry of public administration said.

Sri Lanka, since the end of the ethnic conflict four years ago, has faced accusations of ignoring international calls for accountability over alleged 40,000 civilian deaths.

Officials would be conducting a census on deaths and injuries and property damages during the island's 30-year civil war in which an estimated 100,000 people died.

Census chief D C A Gunawardena said, "The terrorist conflicts, political and any such conflicts that have occurred during 1982 and after wards are considered as internal conflicts for the purpose of this census."

Asked if the census data would provide verification to the figure of 40,000 which international rights organisations including the United Nations had accused Sri Lankan troops of killing in the last stages of the war, Abeykoon said, "Why should we go for a census if we have anything to hide. We are trying to get a clear picture for ourselves."

Sri Lanka has maintained that no civilian deaths occurred in the last months of the military campaign. The move comes after the Commonwealth summit this month was overshadowed by allegations of atrocities by government troops in the final stages of the conflict in May 2009.

International pressure led to the leaders of Canada, India and Mauritius boycotting the summit in protest against Colombo's human rights record.

British Prime Minister David Cameron attended the summit but infuriated Sri Lanka by visiting the war-torn Tamil-dominated Jaffna region in the north.

After meeting with survivors, Cameron warned that he would push for an international probe unless Sri Lanka conducts a credible inquiry of its own by March.

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