Monday, August 24, 2009

Bail for Sri Lanka doctors accused of exaggerating

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka — A Sri Lankan court granted bail Monday to three doctors accused of exaggerating the number of civilian deaths in the country’s recently ended civil war, a lawyer said.

The doctors were a rare source of firsthand information on those wounded and killed in the final stage of the military’s 25-year fight against the Tamil Tiger rebels after the government barred journalists from the war zone and threw out most aid workers.

U.N. figures showed more than 7,000 civilians were killed between January and the war’s end in May. Human rights groups accused the government of shelling heavily populated areas and accused the rebels of holding civilians as human shields. Satellite photos showed densely populated civilian areas had been shelled.

Both sides denied the accusations.

Five doctors who worked in the war zone were arrested in May, and authorities accused them of spreading rebel propaganda. They were not charged with any crime, but were held under emergency laws that give the military and police wide-ranging powers to arrest terrorist suspects and detain them indefinitely.

Last month, the doctors appeared at a government-arranged news conference and said the Tamil rebels forced them to exaggerate the damage caused by the shelling and gave them lists of casualty figures to give to the media.

At the time, Amnesty International said there were "very significant grounds to question whether these statements were voluntary."

On Monday, a magistrate in Colombo granted bail to three of the doctors but asked them to report to police once a month, said Ponnaiah Navaraj, a lawyer for two of the doctors.

A fourth doctor was in the hospital and was not given bail as there was no surety available for him, said Navaraj. He said he had no information about the fifth doctor.

A police spokesman could not immediately be reached Monday evening.

The Tamil rebels’ fight for a separate homeland for the Tamil minority started in 1983. The conflict killed between 80,000 and 100,000 people.

© Associated Press

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