Shelling by Sri Lankan troops maimed 30,000
Up to 30,000 Tamil civilians were left severely disabled by Sri Lankan army shelling in the so-called "no-fire zone", it was claimed yesterday.
Aid workers said one in 10 of the 280,000 civilian refugees who fled the Sri Lankan army's final onslaught against the Tamil Tiger rebels had either lost limbs or been so badly injured that they urgently needed prosthetic limbs or wheelchairs to regain their mobility.
The scale of civilian casualties was disclosed by Handicap International, a French charity.
The organisation, which has a small factory that makes artificial limbs in Batticaloa in Sri Lanka's eastern province, has opened an emergency unit at one of the centres for the people who fled the fighting. It said it was working with other suppliers to meet what it described as a "huge demand".
Aid workers said nearly all of the people were the victims of Sri Lankan shelling of the civilian zone, where the Tamil Tiger leadership made its last stand, before it was wiped out last week.
The claim that thousands of civilians were severely maimed and disabled contradicted that of Mahinda Rajapaksa, Sri Lanka's president, who said his army rescued 280,000 "hostages" without any civilian casualties.
The injured were being held in hospitals throughout the country and camps in the north, which were closed to journalists, but open to a small number of specialist aid workers.
Satish Misra, Handicap International's Sri Lanka director, said the number of maimed could be "about 25,000 to 30,000 people".
He said a team of specialist physiotherapists and occupational therapists were now working with the victims at the camps at Vavuniya.
Their efforts have been hampered by a government ban on refugees leaving the camps.
"We can't start fitting the prosthetics yet because it's difficult while the people are not allowed out of the camps. The limbs must be fitted and people must be trained how to use them," he said. (© Daily Telegraph, London)