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
Sri Lankan doctors paraded - The Guardian
Monday, August 24, 2009
Monday, August 24, 2009
COLOMBO (AFP) – Tamil civilians who lived through the vicious final battle of Sri Lanka's separatist war are now locked in another struggle for survival with heavy rains bringing misery to the camps they call home.
Nearly 300,000 people displaced by the fighting between government troops and Tamil Tiger rebels are held in what the government calls "welfare villages" which are off-limits to independent media.
"This is inhuman. This is a living hell," pro-government Tamil politician Dharmalingam Sithadthan said of the camps where recent pre-monsoon rains overwhelmed sewer systems and flooded tents.
"The rains earlier this month were freak showers," said Sithadthan. The heavy monsoon rains "will start in October and the conditions will only get worse. The government must give people the choice to leave the camps."
The United States, which led international criticism over civilian casualties in the final phase of Colombo's offensive against the Tamil Tigers, has also been vocal in its concerns over the plight of the displaced survivors.
The United Nations said more than 7,000 civilians may have perished in the five months before the war ended in May.
"Involuntary confinement is especially a source of concern given the recent rains and given the coming of the monsoon season," said Eric Schwartz, the US assistant secretary of state for population, refugees and migration.
"It makes it all the more important that release from confinement be an issue that friends of Sri Lanka continue to raise," he said in Washington on Wednesday.
Rains last week destroyed nearly 2,000 makeshift shelters at the Manik Farm resettlement complex in northern Sri Lanka.
New York-based Human Rights Watch said there was a danger of disease spreading in the camps with the onset of the monsoon and asked Colombo to end what the group insists is the illegal detention of civilians.
A 30-year-old woman interviewed by the rights watchdog described the impact of the rains on the shelter she shared with her infant son and other refugees.
"Within seconds, the water was pouring into our tents. ... After a couple of minutes, everything was flooded. We lost all of our things. It was terrible. We were already frightened and this made it worse," she said.
"Some of the toilets are completely flooded. It looks like they are floating in water. The pits have collapsed and raw sewage is floating around with the storm water in a green and brown sludge," she said. "It smells disgusting."
Sri Lanka's Resettlement Minister Rishard Bathurdeen blamed UN agencies for poorly constructed drainage systems that had been unable to cope with the rainfall.
Human Rights Minister Mahinda Samarasinghe denied media reports of disease.
"There are no major health-related issues in the camps and all health centres are functioning at normal capacity," he said.
The bar on the media makes independent verification of the situation impossible.
"With no independent monitors able to freely visit the camps, many people are unprotected and at risk from enforced disappearances, abductions, arbitrary arrest and sexual violence," London-based Amnesty International said.
It noted that the inmates of the camps were not allowed to talk freely to aid workers or the occasional visitor allowed by the military under strict supervision.
Sri Lanka's new army chief Jagath Jayasuriya told reporters last Thursday that the military was working overtime to clear landmines to allow swifter re-settlement of those in the camps.
The government promised UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, who visited the island in May, that 80 percent of the internally displaced would be returned home before the end of this year -- a deadline officials privately admit is unrealistic.
Monday, August 24, 2009
Police terrorist investigators have failed to find any evidence to charge a group accused of helping Tamil Tigers, their lawyer said.
Manjula Pathiraja, Attorney at Law, told BBC Sandeshaya that the authorities will have to release the whole group soon.
He was commenting on the latest release by the courts of two Sinhala nationals accused of supporting the LTTE.
"These people were detained for over one and half years, without charges, under detention orders," Mr. Pathiraja said.
A group of journalists and trade union activists were abducted and later found in the custody of police Terrorism Investigation Division (TID) in February 2007.
They were arrested on suspicion of conspiring with the LTTE to overthrow the democratically elected government.
The suspects were accused of forming an organisation called Revolutionary Liberation Army and having close links with the LTTE.
The suspects were never charged in a court of law.
Military spokesman Brigadier Prasad Samarasinghe told media days after the arrest that three journalists have confessed to planning and carrying out attacks on behalf of the rebels.
The military found explosives hidden by the suspects after the arrest, he added.
journalists were shown footages of suspects 'confessing' to have worked with the Tamil Tigers to stage attaks in the south of the country.
Media watchdogs, RSF and FMM, protested authorities using alleged confessions taken while in custody.
After considering fundamental rights (FR) petitions, the Supreme Court earlier this year released 11 of them without charge.
Sarath Fernando, one of those recently released by the court, said that he was tortured while in custody after he refused to confess working for the LTTE.
Speaking with BBC Sandeshaya from an unidentified location outside Sri Lanka, he said he filed a formal complaint with the magistrate regarding the torture.
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