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UN worried about ‘heroic’ Sri Lankan doctors’ fate

[Reuters, Tuesday, 19 May 2009 14:57 No Comment]

The U.N. humanitarian affairs chief on Monday voiced concern over the fate of several "heroic" Sri Lankan doctors who the government accused of being propagandists for Tamil Tiger rebels.

U.N. Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator John Holmes was asked by reporters in New York about media reports that the doctors might have been detained and interrogated at a displaced persons camp outside the former conflict zone in northeastern Sri Lanka.

"I believe they may be in the camps but we haven’t had any direct contact with them," Holmes said.

"I would certainly urge the government to treat them (the doctors) properly," he said. "These are people who performed absolutely heroically in the last few weeks and months, and deserve every praise and care."

Government doctors T. Sathyamoorthy and Thurairajah Varatharajah are among the physicians who were inside the conflict zone and were accused by Colombo of being in the thrall of the Tamil Tiger rebels during the final months of fighting between the Tigers and Sri Lankan government forces.

The government has accused the two doctors of being propagandists for the LTTE.

The two doctors’ precise location is uncertain, U.N. officials said.

The Sri Lankan military said on Monday its troops had won the final battle in a 25-year separatist conflict. Special forces troops killed Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) leader Vellupillai Prabhakaran as he tried to flee the war zone in an ambulance early on Monday, state television reported.

Sathyamoorthy and Varatharajah, whose personal security in the conflict zone was at the whim of the Tigers, occasionally reported higher casualty figures than the government during Sri Lanka’s siege against a narrow strip of coastline where the LTTE forces were trapped along with tens of thousands of civilians.

Holmes had repeatedly accused the LTTE of using the civilians as human shields. He had also criticized the government for firing heavy artillery into the conflict zone despite its insistence that it was only using light weapons.

Separately, U.N. spokeswoman Marie Okabe said Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon was considering a trip to Sri Lanka soon to discuss the "conditions of the civilians in IDP (internally displaced persons) camps and reception centers under government control."

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