Nearly 8,000 people, including 550 children below the age of 10, were killed in Sri Lanka's war-torn north during a final offensive to crush Tamil rebels, the census department said on Saturday.
Another 6,350 people went missing after government forces finally crushed the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in May 2009, the department said in an 80-page report.
The figures are in stark contrast to estimates by international rights groups, which say up to 40,000 civilians perished in the final months of the civil war and have heavily criticised Sri Lanka's treatment of civilians.
The census report said 6,858 people were killed in the first five months of 2009 when fighting peaked just before the military claimed victory in its no-holds-barred offensive. The census did not cover security forces killed in the war zone, but the military had previously said 6,000 personnel were killed in the final stages of the war.
The department had carried out the census between June and August last year, but disclosed the figures only over the weekend. There was no immediate comment from international rights groups to the latest Sri Lankan census report.
The report described the 7,934 deaths in the Northern Province in 2009 as being due to “extraordinary circumstances”, but did not identify those responsible or whether Tiger combatants were included in the statistics.
Much of the deaths occurred at a time when civilians were ordered to move into what was supposed to be a “no fire zone” as the military tightened its grip on the territory controlled by the rebels.
About a fifth of those killed in the first five months of 2009 were below the age of 19 years, according to the census department which said 552 children below the age of 10 years and another 952 between 10 and 19 years were killed. The numbers appear to confirm fears expressed by UNICEF at the time that hundreds of children were caught up in the conflict and had been killed. The census department said the Defence Ministry provided “necessary infrastructure facilities” for the census.