Amnesty questions Puthukkudiyiruppu bombing raid

[TamilNet, Friday, 17 September 1999, 10:39 GMT]
Amnesty International said today that the explanation proffered by the Sri Lanka Air Force (SLAF) for the bombing of the Puthukkudiyiruppu market on Wednesday "does not absolve it from its responsibility under international humanitarian law to take all possible precautions to avoid harming civilians"

Amnesty, in a statement expressing concern over the bombing, said a Sri Lankan military spokesperson had denied the raid, which killed at least 21 refugees in a crowded market place, had been a deliberate attack on civilians.

kfir.jpgThe military had told the London based human rights watchdog that two bombing raids were carried out in the area, one of them aimed at a Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) camp at Nandikadal, about four and a half kilometres to the east of Puthukkudiyiruppu.

Amnesty said that the reported high number of civilian casualties and the significant distance between the intended objective of the air strike and the actual place where the civilians were killed, raise serious doubts about the quality of the intelligence used before the bombing raid.

It also raises questions as to whether the alleged military value of this attack was proportionate to the risk it posed to civilians, said Amnesty.

The spokesperson said the SLAF had attacked a legitimate military target, that the reported killings of civilians were being investigated, and that the attack had followed normal procedures, including prior checks with intelligence sources regarding any civilian presence near the area.

Amnesty International has written to President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga expressing concern as to whether this may have been an unlawful attack.

The organization asked a number of specific questions about the SLAF's adherence to fundamental rules of humanitarian law.

These include the prohibition of direct attacks on civilians and civilian objects and the prohibition of attacks on military targets expected to cause incidental loss of civilian life which would be excessive in relation to the concrete and direct military advantage anticipated, the Amnesty statement said.

Other rules require specific precautions to be taken when launching attacks, including desisting from an attack if it becomes apparent that the objective is not a military one or the attack risks being disproportionate, the statement said further.

Amnesty International said it is concerned that this incident may indicate that not all precautions are being taken to protect civilians, for instance in the SLAF's selecting and vetting of targets, in choosing the timing of attacks, in the way such attacks are carried out, and in ensuring that civilians are being given advance warning when possible.

The human rights organization has also asked to receive relevant details of the rules of engagement and other instructions given to pilots in order to assess whether these comply with international humanitarian law.


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