Friday, June 5, 2009

Why Doctors from Sri Lanka's Combat Zone May Face Jail

The veil of secrecy over the whereabouts of three doctors who worked in Sri Lanka's shrinking war zone last month has finally been lifted. On Thursday, Colombo announced that three doctors, all of whom were treating patients in Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE)-held areas in the final days before they were gained by Sri Lankan government forces, are now in government custody and face court action for collaborating with the Tigers.

Disaster Management and Human Rights Minister Mahinda Samarasinghe revealed that the three doctors Dr. T. Varatharajah, Dr. T. Sathyamurthi, and Dr. V. Shanmugarajah had been detained by the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) and are being investigated for suspicions of working with the Tigers. The three doctors remained in the shrinking combat zone during heavy battles in May, and only crossed over to government-held areas three days before the government announced the death of Tamil Tiger leader Velupillai Prabhakaran, signifying the effective end of the Tigers' long insurgency.

During the last weeks of the war, the government had consistently charged that the three doctors were providing inflated numbers and wrong information on civilian casualties by government fire within a narrow no-fire zone. On May 12, Dr. Varatharajah told the Associated Press that 49 patients were killed and 50 others were injured when shells hit the only functioning medical facility within the zone.

"I can't reveal all the details of the confessions [by the doctors], but you will see when they appear in court," Samarasinghe said, indicating that the doctors were likely to retract accusations that government forces were responsible for the shelling.

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