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Sri Lankan doctors recant reports of civilian deaths

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The doctors have been held in police custody since fleeing the fighting in May, just days before the LTTE's defeat. As a result, human rights groups say that their statements may not be voluntary. The doctors denied Wednesday they spoke under pressure, though they appeared nervous at times, according to news reports. The event was held at a defense ministry facility.

Some of their retractions also contradict accounts by the UN and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), which was the only foreign organization left in the war zone. The ICRC said earlier this week that it was scaling down operations in the northeast in response to a government demand.

In one incident in February, artillery apparently fired from government positions hit a hospital in the war zone and killed several patients. A doctor denied Wednesday that the attack happened.

"From the time the doctors were detained, the fear was that they would be used exactly this way," Sam Zarifi, the Asia-Pacific director of Amnesty International, said in a statement.

Sri Lanka investigating doctors' LTTE ties

Western diplomats have quietly been asking authorities to release the doctors, whose courage under fire was praised by the UN's humanitarian chief, John Holmes. On Wednesday, the doctors expressed optimism that they might be freed. But Sri Lanka's police said they were still under investigation.

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