Sri Lankan doctors recant death figures
A group of Sri Lankan doctors who have been in police custody for nearly two months were brought before the media yesterday to recant their reports of mass civilian casualties during the final days of the civil war.
They estimated yesterday that between 650 and 750 civilians were killed between January and mid-May in the final battles of the war, a number far below that reported by the United Nations.
The doctors said they were pressured by the LTTE to to inflate the numbers.
"The LTTE forced us to give figures (to the media)," doctor Thurairaja Varatharajah said at the government's Media Centre for National Security auditorium. "Figures were exaggerated due to LTTE pressure."
However, the statements by the doctors contradicts the credible sources.
The five men denied they were under pressure from the military to change their stories, but their new accounts differ dramatically from those of aid organisations and other international bodies.
"The information that the doctors have given in the press conference actually contradicts other credible sources such as the ICRC [International Committee of the Red Cross]," Miriam Young, director of the US counsel on Sri Lanka, an advocacy group which focuses on human rights, said.
"They now say the hospital was never shelled, when ICRC staff were in fact at the hospital at the time and can testify to that," she told Al Jazeera from Washington.
UN had reported over 7000 civilians were killed, and it stands by their statements.
UN figures show more than 7,000 civilians were killed between January and May. Human rights groups accused the government of shelling heavily populated areas and accused the rebels of holding civilians as human shields. Both sides denied the accusations.
The doctors claimed twice the number of killed were injured, eventhough Red Cross rescued 13,769 patients in the last battle.
Dr. Thurairaja Varatharajah, the top health official in the war zone, said only 600-650 civilians were hurt from January to April 15, even though the Red Cross rescued 13,769 patients from his hospital during the final months of fighting.
Amnesty International said that statements from the doctors were "expected and predicted". Further stated that:
"There are very significant grounds to question whether these statements were voluntary, and they raise serious concerns whether the doctors were subjected to ill-treatment during weeks of detention"
It should be noted that the government barred journalists and international monitoring, and the Red Cross had reported an "unimaginable humanitarian catastrophe".
The government had prevented journalists and international monitors accessing the war zone, where the International Committee of the Red Cross reported an "unimaginable humanitarian catastrophe".
The future of the doctors remain uncertain.
The doctors' immediate future is uncertain.
Although they say they were speaking under Tamil Tiger pressure, last week a senior presidential aide said they could not be allowed to "go scot-free" as they had been "lying through their teeth".
Last month a minister said they were suspected of "collaboration" with the Tigers and were being investigated on those lines.
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