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* Sri Lanka takes census of civilian deaths during the last stages of war
Thu, Nov 24, 2011, 02:15 pm SL Time, ColomboPage News Desk, Sri Lanka.

Nov 24, Colombo: The Sri Lankan government is taking measures for the first time to get an accurate count of the number of civilians killed during the final stages of the armed conflict against the Tamil Tiger terrorists, country's top defence official said Thursday.

Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa has said the government is preparing to take census of the civilians died or went missing during the last few months of the conflict that ended in May 2009.

Delivering the keynote address at the inaugural National Reconciliation Conference organized by the Lakshman Kadirgamar Institute of International Relations and Strategic Studies, the Defence Secretary has said that the government believes, as a first step towards reconciliation, taking census of the deaths is a way to address the accountability.

The Secretary has said that the counting the number of dead and missing and identifying the circumstances led to the deaths will help to investigate the war crime allegations against the security forces.

He has said that the government has already assigned officials in the North to identify the dead or missing individuals by name and how they died.

He said the deaths have been divided in to various categories - natural causes, accidents, fighting for the rebels, fighting against the rebels, resisting the rebels, fleeing the country by boats or security forces action.

The government's count so far shows a very small number of civilians died because of military action, the Secretary said while acknowledging that soldiers may have been responsible for some of the deaths.

Defence Secretary has promised to investigate any crimes, if any, committed by the soldiers and punish the culpable.

The government has maintained that it had a 'zero civilian casualties' policy but acknowledged that civilian casualties were unavoidable during a war where the terrorists have held the civilians as human shields.

The Defence Secretary said the Census and Statistics Department will be conducting the survey and the results will be made public.

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