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Sri Lankan war zone doctor stands for election

[BBC, Tuesday, 6 April 2010 12:57 No Comment]

A doctor who worked in Sri Lanka’s war zone during last year’s civil war is standing for a pro-government party in parliamentary elections.

Dr V Shanmugarajah gave high casualty figures to aid agencies and the media from within the combat zone.

The government doctor is believed to have been enlisted by the now-defeated Tamil Tigers into their medical team.

Sri Lanka’s government is expected to win the parliamentary elections on Thursday.

It was angered when Dr Shanmugarajah and other doctors spoke to the media from the war zone.

‘Under pressure’

Dr Shanmugarajah is one of a small group of medical practitioners who gave high figures for casualties in the final months of the war.

He and other government doctors spoke to the media from the war zone and said that hundreds of people were dying in bombardments, many of which, it was claimed, came from army-controlled territory.

Several months later, after being taken into government custody, the doctors retracted their claims. They said they had come under pressure from Tiger rebels to exaggerate the number of deaths.

But now Dr Shanmugarajah has his job back and is standing in the northern Vanni district for a small Tamil party, which 20 years ago was a militant group.

Rebellion crushed

It is standing separately from the government coalition. But Dr Shanmugarajah told the BBC his party leans towards support for President Mahinda Rajapaksa, a man he described as "OK".

The doctor’s home area is Mullaitivu, the last sizeable town that was held by the Tigers.

More than half the people in the area are still in army-run refugee camps, but Dr Shanmugarajah said they were slowly going back home.

One of the war-zone doctors recanted casualty figures last July, saying it was not true that a hospital had been shelled there in February.

But the Red Cross and the United Nations insisted that the shelling had taken place. Sri Lanka’s government says no civilians were killed by its armed forces in the war zone.

The doctor says he no longer wishes to discuss casualty figures, which have been the subject of huge controversy.

The Tamil Tiger rebels, who had been fighting for a separate homeland, were crushed when the 26-year civil war ended last year.

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