Sri Lanka to compile toll of war dead: Government

COLOMBO (AFP) - Sri Lanka is to begin a nationwide survey to determine the number of people who were killed in the country's 37-year ethnic conflict, the government announced on Wednesday.

"The Department of Census and Statistics will conduct an islandwide census to assess the loss of human life and damage to property," said a government statement posted on the president's website.

This census will begin on Thursday and should be complete its work within six months, the statement added.

The survey would be carried out in more than 14,000 villages, and 16,000 officials would be deployed to gather the information.

While the government has previously spoken of plans to conduct a comprehensive survey, it is the first time that it has set out a timetable.

The announcement comes after Sri Lanka hosted a Commonwealth summit this month which was overshadowed by allegations of war crimes committed by government troops in the final stages of the conflict in May 2009.

UN bodies and rights groups have said that as many as 40,000 civilians may have died in the final phase of the conflict when the army routed the Tamil Tiger rebel movement in its last northern stronghold.

President Mahinda Rajapaksa has previously said no civilians died in the finale to the war and has rejected any suggestion of international investigators being allowed to conduct an independent inquiry on Sri Lankan soil.

Britain’s Prime Minister David Cameron has threatened to lead a push for an international probe unless Sri Lanka produces credible results from its own inquiry by March.