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Sri Lanka doctors ‘to be tried’

[BBC, Thursday, 4 June 2009 19:30 No Comment]

_45729030_hospital_226i A group of doctors who worked in Sri Lanka’s rebel-held war zone are being held on suspicion of collaborating with Tamil rebels, the government says.

The doctors could be in detention for a year or more before being tried.

With journalists banned from the conflict zone, they became an important source of news about the fighting during the final bloody months of war.

Last month the Sri Lankan government defeated Tamil Tiger rebels fighting for a separate homeland.

Government infuriated

During the final phase of the war, the group of doctors treated wounded and ill patients admitted to the makeshift health posts in the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eeelam (LTTE)-held zone encircled by government forces.

Two of them had been senior local health directors and the United States said they had "helped save many lives" while the UN called them "heroic".

But the Sri Lankan government was infuriated by the doctors’ media interviews from the zone, in which they said some of the shelling there came from the government side and had killed civilians.

Human Rights Minister Mahinda Samarasinghe told the BBC they are being detained at the Criminal Investigation Department on "reasonable suspicion of collaboration with the LTTE".

"I don’t know what the investigations would reveal but maybe they were even part of that whole conspiracy to put forward this notion that government forces were shelling and targeting hospitals and indiscriminately targeting civilians as a result of the shelling," he said.

The government says not a single civilian died as a result of its final offensive, despite international allegations to the contrary.

The minister says the doctors must be produced in court every month while investigations proceed pending possible charges.

He said the investigation could last up to a year, but there might be extensions to that.

Separately, Sri Lanka’s foreign secretary, Palitha Kohona, has been speaking of the government-run camps where more than 250,000 Tamils from the war zone are detained.

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