NORTHEAST COAST, Sri Lanka — Sri Lanka's former war zone is a wasteland, its earth scorched and pocked by craters. Cars and trucks lie overturned near bunkers beside clusters of battered tents.
The government has denied firing heavy weapons into what had been a battlefield densely populated with civilians. But the helicopter tour the military gave U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki Moon and journalists Saturday revealed widespread devastation.
After the tour, Ban pressed Sri Lanka's government to grant international relief agencies "unhindered access" to refugee camps. There was no response from the government of President Mahinda Rajapaksa.
Civilians who escaped the zone said they came under intense shelling from both the rebels and the government.
"We ran for our lives from the shelling in the north," said one man named Krishnathurai. "It was coming from both sides, the Tamil Tigers and the military, and we were stuck in the middle."
The sandy coastal strip where the final battles of the quarter-century civil war were fought was dotted with patches of charred earth and deep recessions. Dark craters were visible amid the grayish earth along the coast.
The government declared victory over the rebels Monday in the civil war that began in 1983.
In the final weeks, with the rebels boxed into a tiny coastal strip and tens of thousands of civilians trapped inside the battlefield, the government said it would no longer fire heavy weapons.
But government doctors in the area — as well as human rights groups and foreign leaders — said intense shelling continued, killing hundreds of civilians. The U.N. Human Rights Council has planned a special session on Sri Lanka on Monday in Geneva amid international calls for a war crimes investigation into the military's conduct.
According to private U.N. documents, at least 7,000 civilians were killed in the final months of fighting. The military said Saturday it had not shelled the area, and blamed the craters on the rebels.
Information from the New York Times was used in this report.