NEW YORK, June 1 (UPI) -- U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon says there were "unacceptably high" civilian casualties in the final battle between the Sri Lankan military and Tamil Tigers.
While rejecting any casualty figure attributed to the United Nations, Ban said Monday, "I categorically reject -- repeat, categorically -- any suggestion that the United Nations has deliberately under-estimated any figures," the U.N. Newswire reported. "Let me also say, whatever the total, the casualties in the conflict were unacceptably high -- as I have also said repeatedly."
Ban made the comments as he briefed the U.N. General Assembly on his recent visit to Sri Lanka.
The Times of London, citing confidential U.N. documents and other evidence it had obtained, had earlier reported about 20,000 Sri Lankan Tamil civilians died mostly in military shelling in the final push to defeat the Tamil Tigers.
The Sri Lankan government also has denied the figures.
Ban also told the General Assembly he had pressed the Sri Lankan government to heed international calls for an inquiry into alleged abuses and underscored the need for full accountability and transparency.
Ban said any such inquiry, however, would require the full cooperation of the host government and also the support of the U.N. Member States expressed through the Human Rights Council, the General Assembly or the Security Council.
"I stand ready to do whatever we can in the interests of justice, human rights and Sri Lanka's political future," Ban said.