Last phase of Sri Lanka war killed 6,200 troops

By C. Bryson Hull

COLOMBO (Reuters) - More than 6,200 soldiers died and nearly 30,000 have been wounded since the last phase of Sri Lanka's 25-year war with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) began in July 2006, the defence secretary has said.

Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa gave the figures for the first time during an interview late on Thursday with the state-run Independent Television Network.

By comparison, in the six years and one month since the United States went to war in Iraq, nearly 4,600 U.S., British and other nations' troops have been killed.

Sri Lanka had only given its own casualty figures erratically if at all during the final 34-month phase of the war, dubbed Eelam War IV, and stopped giving them altogether last year.

The military had said several months ago it had killed at least 15,000 Tamil Tigers in the course of fighting but has not given a final tally.

Much of the fighting over the last year took place as troops crossed tall earthen dams and moats to break through into LTTE-held areas, across an area strewn with landmines, booby traps and Tiger fighters willing to commit suicide attacks.

Overall, the United Nations this week said what had been Asia's longest modern conflict had killed between 80,000-100,000 people since it erupted into full-scale civil war in 1983.

Unofficial and unverified U.N. tallies show 7,000 civilians were killed since January alone. Aid agencies say some 280,000 ethnic Tamils who fled the war zone are in refugee camps.

Sri Lanka's government declared the LTTE totally defeated on Monday, and the next day said troops had wiped out its entire leadership, including founder Vellupillai Prabhakaran, in a cataclysmic final battle near the Indian Ocean island's northeastern shores.

(Editing by Valerie Lee)

Article Published: 22/05/2009