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Thursday, 16 August, 2001, 10:40 GMT 11:40 UK
Dead Sri Lankan soldiers 'abandoned'
Relatives mourning
Relatives want information about their loved ones
By Frances Harrison in Colombo

Tamil Tiger rebels says the bodies of hundreds of dead Sri Lankan army soldiers have been abandoned on the battlefield since fighting in May.

The rebels say the army did not accept all the bodies
The remarks were made by the leader of the political wing of the Tamil Tigers, Mr Thamilselvan, during a rare meeting with relatives of missing servicemen.

Relatives of Sri Lankan soldiers missing in action met Mr Thamilselvan to ask for help in tracing the disappeared men.

They travelled to rebel territory among a group of pilgrims attending an annual festival at an important Catholic shrine there.

Red Cross

Mr Thamilselvan told the 10 relatives of missing soldiers who met him that they had been lied to by the Sri Lankan army and it was wrong for mothers to think their sons might still be alive and in rebel custody.

He said they only had a handful of prisoners of war and they had all been shown to delegates from the International Red Cross.

Mr Thamilselvan said when the Tigers captured the north-eastern town of Mulaittivu five years ago, they had asked the Red Cross to hand over nearly 1,000 dead bodies to the Sri Lankan Government.

But he said the military had only accepted 55 to return to their families, and had buried the rest with full military honours on the spot.

Mr Thamilselvan also said that during the last military offensive in May soldiers had walked into a minefield near Elephant Pass.

He said there were still hundreds of decomposing bodies left there because neither side could safely retrieve them.


But the Sri Lankan military spokesman, Brigadier Sanath Karunaratne, denied the reports, saying they were merely aimed at demoralising the parents of missing soldiers.

He said even if the army can't retrieve a body because it might cost another life, it would never categorise that soldier as missing.

The group of relatives of missing servicemen say they represent 3,000 who have been left in limbo, not knowing whether their loved ones are alive or dead.

See also:

15 Aug 01 | South Asia
Rebels threaten Sri Lankan town
24 Jul 01 | South Asia
Sri Lanka hits back at rebels
01 Jul 01 | South Asia
Senior Tamil Tiger killed
05 Jun 01 | South Asia
Tamil Tiger ambush kills six
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