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Viewing cable 09COLOMBO695, DOCTORS RECANT EYEWITNESS ACCOUNTS OF CIVILIAN

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Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
09COLOMBO695 2009-07-13 10:10 2010-12-16 21:09 SECRET Embassy Colombo
VZCZCXRO6379
PP RUEHBI
DE RUEHLM #0695/01 1941033
ZNY SSSSS ZZH
P 131033Z JUL 09 ZDK ALL DUE NUM SVCS
FM AMEMBASSY COLOMBO
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 0228
INFO RUEHKA/AMEMBASSY DHAKA 1785
RUEHIL/AMEMBASSY ISLAMABAD 8798
RUEHKT/AMEMBASSY KATHMANDU 7037
RUEHLO/AMEMBASSY LONDON 5053
RUEHNE/AMEMBASSY NEW DELHI 3172
RUEHNY/AMEMBASSY OSLO 5011
RUEHOT/AMEMBASSY OTTAWA 1290
RUEHSM/AMEMBASSY STOCKHOLM 0551
RUEHKO/AMEMBASSY TOKYO 4118
RUEHCG/AMCONSUL CHENNAI 9395
RUEHBI/AMCONSUL MUMBAI 6697
RUEHON/AMCONSUL TORONTO 1216
RHEFDIA/DIA WASHINGTON DC
RUEHGV/USMISSION GENEVA 3629
RHHMUNA/HQ USPACOM HONOLULU HI
RUEHBS/USEU BRUSSELS
RHEHAAA/NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL WASHINGTON DC
RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHDC
Monday, 13 July 2009, 10:33
S E C R E T SECTION 01 OF 02 COLOMBO 000695 
SIPDIS 
DEPARTMENT FOR SCA/INSB 
EO 12958 DECL: 06/25/2019 
TAGS PGOV, PREL, PREF, PHUM, PTER, EAID, MOPS, CE 
SUBJECT: DOCTORS RECANT EYEWITNESS ACCOUNTS OF CIVILIAN 
CASUALTIES
REF: A. COLOMBO 0435  B. COLOMBO 0448  C. COLOMBO 0454  D. COLOMBO 0554
COLOMBO 00000695 001.2 OF 002
Classified By: CHARGE D’AFFAIRES JAMES R. MOORE. REASONS: 1.4 (B, D)
1. (SBU) SUMMARY: The five doctors who worked inside the final conflict zone (the government-declared “no-fire zone”) and who released accounts of the situation and the numbers of killed and wounded civilians there gave a press conference press conference on July 8. The doctors said they were “pressured” by the LTTE to release the casualty figures during the fighting, and that in reality the number of killed and wounded civilians was much lower. Many international observers doubt the veracity of this “confession”, and casualty figures from other sources are inconsistent with the numbers given by the doctors at the press conference. Some have said the doctors were told they must make this sort of statement or be prosecuted for assisting the LTTE. It is not known if they will in fact be released soon, but it appears they have been treated relatively well while in detention. There is some concern for their safety if the doctors are in fact released. END SUMMARY. 2. (SBU) The five doctors who served in the conflict zone during the final weeks and months of the war, and who provided eyewitness accounts of the situation there during the final months of the conflict between the GSL and the LTTE publicly retracted their previous statements during a press conference arranged by the Government on July 8. The doctors announced that they were “pressured” by the LTTE to make the original statements. The five were taken into custody by the Army at the end of the conflict in May, but are now in CID (police) custody. They said they have been treated well and have been given medical attention. They noted in their statements that during the conflict they had exaggerated the number of killed and injured and also stated that there had never been a shortage of food in the zone. The doctors reported that in reality many civilians were killed trying to escape the LTTE and that the LTTE had commandeered medical supplies brought into the zone for civilians for the wounded LTTE cadres. They said LTTE officials would hand them lists of figures to cite, and then give them phone numbers of sympathetic journalists to contact with the reports. The doctors stated that the actual number of civilian deaths from January until the end of the conflict in mid-May was between 600 and 650, with 1,200 injured during that same time period.
3. (S) International media and NGOs are skeptical of the doctors’ statements at the news conference. Credible local NGO sources have said the families were told the doctors may be released following such confessions and they may have had to videotape individual confessions for the president. While it is difficult to pin down solid numbers on anything that happened in the last months of the conflict, other relatively verifiable sources of information are clearly at odds with these figures. The ICRC reported on May 12 that since mid-February it had evacuated nearly 14,000 sick or wounded civilians and their relatives. Unofficial UN estimates for Tamil civilian deaths over roughly the same January to mid-May time period are more than ten times as high, between 7,000 and 8,000. Those UN estimates did not rigorously seek to exclude deaths of possible LTTE conscripts, but it is unlikely that a ten-fold increase in figures over what the doctors stated this week would be due solely to deaths of LTTE cadres mixed in with the civilian population. 4. (S) Of particular concern is what will happen to the doctors if in fact they are released soon. In a meeting with the Ambassador on May 20, the Defense Secretary indicated that it would probably not be safe to free the doctors until
COLOMBO 00000695 002.3 OF 002
after passions had cooled. More recently a senior contact in the CID was demoted because he had worked to improve the detention conditions of the doctors and apparently had expressed too strong of a desire to improve their welfare. 5. (C) COMMENT: The dead and wounded figures given by the doctors at the July 8 press conference would appear to underestimate the true number of casualties during the final months of conflict in the no-fire zone. The GSL appears to be continuing its efforts to downplay the extent of civilian suffering during the last weeks and days of the war. However, a willingness to arrange for the doctors to be released following this confession could signal an effort by the GSL to appease international criticism. If the doctors are released, it will be critical for the GSL to take meaningful action to ensure that the doctors are not then “disappeared” in order to prevent them from making any modifications to this press statement. MOORE