Sri Lanka set to begin survey of civil war dead

Sri Lankan ethnic Tamil women cry holding portraits of their missing relatives during a protest in Jaffna, Sri Lanka, Friday, Nov. 15, 2013 Tamil women held photos of missing relatives at a protest outside the summit

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Sri Lanka is set to start a survey to determine the number of people killed during the country's 26-year civil war, the government says.

The census will collect information on deaths, missing people and damage to property from 1983 to 2009, it said.

It comes amid international pressure over allegations of mass civilian deaths at the end of the conflict.

A Commonwealth summit held in Sri Lanka this month was overshadowed by claims of war crimes.


Sri Lanka's army defeated separatist Tamil Tiger rebels in May 2009.

Allegations of atrocities during the closing stages of that war have dogged the government ever since. The rebels were also accused of abuses.

Sri Lanka Timeline

  • 1948 - As Ceylon, the island gains independence from Britain.
  • 1972 - The government changes its name to Sri Lanka and gives Buddhism primary place as country's religion, antagonising largely Hindu Tamil minority.
  • 1983 - As ethnic tensions grow, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) launches a violent uprising, seeking autonomy for the Tamil-dominated north and east.
  • 2005 - After years of war, and failed peace talks, Mahinda Rajapaksa is elected president.
  • May 2009 - Tamil Tigers defeated after army over-runs last patch of rebel-held territory in the north-east. LTTE leader Velupillai Prabhakaran killed.
  • Apr 2011 - UN says both sides committed atrocities against civilians and calls for an international investigation into possible war crimes. Sri Lanka says the report is biased.
  • Nov 2012 - Another UN report says 70,000 civilians were "unaccounted for" at the end of the war.
  • Nov 2013 - Colombo prepares to host Chogm

The government has strenuously denied such allegations and insist it is on the path of reconciliation.

Officials "will conduct an island-wide census to assess the human and property damages occurred during nearly three-decade long conflict," a government statement said on Wednesday.

"This census, which has to be completed within six months will be launched on Thursday 28 November."

Some 16,000 officials will be visiting the homes of families affected to collect information, according to the state-run Daily News.

The announcement comes after Sri Lanka hosted a Commonwealth summit dominated by protests over treatment of the Tamils. The leaders of India, Mauritius and Canada boycotted the event.

The spotlight has fallen on the final phase of that war when civilians were hemmed into a thin strip of land on the north-eastern coast - both sides are accused of atrocities here.

The UN says as many as 40,000 Tamil civilians may have been killed.

Sri Lanka's President Mahinda Rajapaksa rejected calls at November's summit for an independent inquiry into alleged war crimes, and said the country needed more time to heal the wounds of civil war.

State media say the government's latest move to count the country's war dead comes as part of its internal report, the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC), published in November 2011.

Human rights groups say that the LLRC is deeply flawed and has provided no accountability for atrocities the government is alleged to have committed during the war. The government insists the commission will provide justice.

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