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Sri Lanka's Genocidal War - '95 to '01
"Twenty one Tamil civilians were killed and 35 wounded when the air force carried out a bombing raid in northeastern Sri Lanka, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said Thursday (16 September 1999). Fifteen civilians, including women and children, died during the attack while another six died in hospital in the district of Mullaitivu on Wednesday, an ICRC spokesman in Colombo said. He said the bombs fell just two kilometres away from the ICRC office in the district of Mullaitivu. "We can confirm that 21 civilians were killed consequent to the air strike at Manthuvil junction," the spokesman said. "The ICRC deplores the fact that the air strikes were carried out in a civilian area." (Colombo, 16 September 1999AFP Report)
"The reported presence of "legitimate" military targets in the Puthukkudiyiruppu area of Sri Lanka, where 21 civilians were reportedly killed in a bombing raid on 15 September, does not absolve the (Sri Lanka) Air Force of its responsibility under international humanitarian law to take all possible precautions to avoid harming civilians, Amnesty International said today.
Amnesty International believes that the reported high number of civilian casualties and the significant distance between the intended objective of the air strike and the actual place where the civilians were killed, raise serious doubts about the quality of the intelligence used before the bombing raid. It also raises questions as to whether the alleged military value of this attack was proportionate to the risk it posed to civilians.
A military spokesperson denied this had been a deliberate attack on civilians. He told Amnesty International that two bombing raids were carried out in the area, one of them aimed at a Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) camp at Nandikadal, about four and a half kilometres to the east of Puthukkudiyiruppu. The spokesperson said the Air Force had attacked a legitimate military target, that the reported killings of civilians were being investigated, and that the attack had followed normal procedures, including prior checks with intelligence sources regarding any civilian presence near the area.
Amnesty International has written to President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga expressing concern as to whether this may have been an unlawful attack. The organization asked a number of specific questions about the Air Force's adherence to fundamental rules of humanitarian law. These include the prohibition of direct attacks on civilians and civilian objects and the prohibition of attacks on military targets expected to cause incidental loss of civilian life which would be excessive in relation to the concrete and direct military advantage anticipated.
Other rules require specific precautions to be taken when launching attacks, including desisting from an attack if it becomes apparent that the objective is not a military one or the attack risks being disproportionate. Amnesty International is concerned that this incident may indicate that not all precautions are being taken to protect civilians, for instance in the Air Force's selecting and vetting of targets, in choosing the timing of attacks, in the way such attacks are carried out, and in ensuring that civilians are being given advance warning when possible. The human rights organization has also asked to receive relevant details of the rules of engagement and other instructions given to pilots in order to assess whether these comply with international humanitarian law..... (Amnesty International Public Statement - 173/99 AI INDEX: ASA 37/22/99 16 September 1999)