Physicians for Human Rights, the Cambridge-based organization, has appealed for the release of three doctors detained by the Sri Lankan authorities in the final days of the war there.
PHR senior researcher Richard Sollom said today he had spoken by internet phone last Wednesday with one of the three doctors, Thangamuttu Sathyamurthi, two days before the doctors were detained. Among the topics was the alleged shelling by government forces of rebel-held areas and medical facilities that were packed with civilians trapped by the offensive.
The Sri Lankan military concluded a final assault on Tamil rebels in northeastern Sri Lanka over the weekend, and killed the rebel commanders. That ended for now a brutal 26-year war that included numerous suicide attacks by Tamil fighters as well as bombings of civilians caught in the war zone in the frenzied final months of the war.
The three doctors were detained on Friday by the military and turned over to police on accusations that they gave false information about the civilian casualties to the media. The three physicians are all Sri Lankans who had worked for the government health service even though they were serving in the rebel-dominated northeast. With the news media banned from the conflict zone, the three doctors became important sources of information for international health organizations as well as news outlets.
Frank Donaghue, the chief executive of PHR, said in a statement that the Sri Lankan government forces had bombed medical facilities and killed health workers in the fighting, and he called on the UN Security Council to create an international commission of inquiry to investigate possible war crimes in Sri Lanka.
Donaghue said that holding the three doctors was a serious violation of medical neutrality. Dr. Sathyamurthi is regional director of health services in Kilinochchi, which was the administrative center for the Tamil Tiger rebels. The other two doctors are Thurairaja Varatharajah and V. Shanmugarajah.
Sollom said that while Sri Lankan government claimed to have rescued the thousands of documented internal refugees in the war zone, in fact the government was not accounting for another 100,000 displaced people not in camps.
"This is a huge humanitarian crisis," Sollom said. "They do not have the infrastructure up there. People can die very quickly from dehydration, and drinking non-potable water."
UN Humanitarian chief John Holmes called today for the doctors to be treated properly. US Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts and several of his colleagues on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee also called for appropriate treatment of the physicians and others in the war zone in the aftermath of the fighting.
About this blog
About James F. SmithJim Smith came home to his native Boston in 2002 to become the Boston Globe's foreign editor after spending 22 years abroad. He was previously based in Buenos Aires and Mexico City for the LA Times, and in Johannesburg, Tokyo and The Hague for the AP. In 2007 he became the Globe's national political editor, coordinating presidential campaign coverage. He is a Yale graduate, and has an MBA. He is married to Maxine Hart and has two sons, Matthew and Daniel.
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