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I have not yet seen the full report issued by the panel appointed by Ban ki Moon, but the Sunday Island of the 17th carries a fascinating extract

“In the early morning hours of 24 January, hundreds of shells rained down on the NFZ. Those with access to the United Nations bunker dove into it for protection. But most IDPs did not have bunkers and nowhere to take cover. People were screaming and crying out for help. The United Nations security officer, a highly experienced military officer,  and others present discerned that the shelling was coming from the south from SLA positions…Heavy shelling continued overnight and shells continued to hit the United Nations hub and the distribution center killing numerous civilians…When United Nations Staff, emerged from the bunker at first morning light at the first opportunity, mangled bodies and body parts were strewn all around them, including those of many women and children.  Remains of babies had been blasted upwards into the trees. Among the dead were people who had helped dig the bunker the previous day…”

This particular attack on us is not unexpected. The security officer who is mentioned is Chris du Toit, from a very distinguished South African family that had been involved in military activity during the apartheid regime too. He was responsible for the initial claim of around I think 2000 civilian deaths, which some people in the UN system began to circulate in February 2009.

We found these figures excessive and called him in to the Ministry of Disaster Management and Human Rights and questioned him about the basis of the figure. Nishan Muthukrishna, adviser to the Minister, was with me, and we questioned him in detail. He said that there were three elements taken into consideration, first the dead bodies they had themselves seen by UN staff, secondly reports they received, and thirdly extrapolation. Pressed on the number of those seen by the UN, he said it was something like 39, over the previous month. Given what he then said about the numbers calculated on the other methods, I believe the figure that was being floated around was excessive. The implications of the methods he employed, for speculation that is now treated as gospel by the panel, need to be reviewed in greater detail, with I shall do shortly, along with a more realistic assessment of actual casualty figures.

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Rajiva Wijesinha

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