Sri Lanka takes first count of civilian war deaths

By the Associated Press | November 24, 2011 | 1:25 AM EST

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (AP) — A top Sri Lankan defense official says the government is counting the number of civilians killed in the final stages of the country's bloody civil war for the first time. The census aims to counter growing allegations of war crimes against military.

Defense Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa told a conference Thursday that the government's count shows a very small number of civilians died because of military action.

A U.N. report released in April said tens of thousands of civilians may have been killed in the final months of the war that ended in May 2009. The report said most of the casualties came from government shelling.

Rajapaksa's statement came amid growing calls for an international war crimes probe of the government's action at the end of the war.