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Sri Lankan doctors recant reports of civilian deaths

Speaking at a defense ministry facility, they said they were coerced by the rebel Tamil Tigers to exaggerate the impact of Sri Lanka’s final offensive. Are they telling the truth now?

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Over two months after the bloody finale of Sri Lanka's 26-year civil war, a lingering row over civilian casualties continues to roil a fractured society.

Sri Lankan authorities have insisted that their final military push against Tamil Tiger rebels didn't target hundreds of thousands of civilians trapped behind enemy lines. But aid workers, church officials, and government doctors reported that heavy shelling had caused mass casualties. A preliminary United Nations report estimated that 7,000 had died between January and May.

On Wednesday, however, a group of doctors who had provided dramatic firsthand accounts of civilian suffering in the war zone publicly recanted their reports. At a press conference in the Sri Lankan capital of Colombo, the five ethnic-Tamil doctors said rebels had forced them to lie about the number of dead and wounded, and said that the actual death toll was a fraction of that counted by the UN.

"The figures were exaggerated due to pressure from the LTTE," said V. Shanmugarajah, one of the doctors, referring to the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).

Their confession seems unlikely to staunch the controversy, though.

Concern that doctors are being used to spin message

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