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Page last updated at 08:58 GMT, Friday, 22 May 2009 09:58 UK

Eyewitness: 'They are all patients'

The bitter war between Tamil Tiger rebels and the Sri Lankan army has left about 275,000 civilians displaced.

A Sinhalese doctor who worked at a hospital in Vavuniya tells the BBC about the civilians and rebels he treated and life in the town closest to the former war zone.


Camp in Vavuniya
Most IDPs have been housed in camps in Vavuniya
I didn't care when I was posted to Vavuniya. I was sent because nobody else was going there. It is still Sri Lanka. I was happy.

Most Tamil doctors don't like to go there because of kidnappings and ransoms. When I started there wasn't an issue with internally displaced people (IDPs).

I treated about 35 patients a day, mostly from Mullaitivu, Kilinochchi. From January the army managed to get us patients from the no-fire zone.

They liberated them and they came here. I tell you, it is true, that they were really happy. The first batch of people, about 400, came with the help of the ICRC when the fighting around Kilinochchi was really bad. A large number of these were influential types who could get the LTTE's consent to leave the area.

The rest were injured and severely ill patients. My ward had about 40 beds for patients. Then we managed initially on about 120 beds. At one stage it went up to 380 in my ward. There were so many coming out. We got extra wards and help from the government and others.

It was an experience. The first few batches of people were cursing the LTTE for their plight. Not the last batch. They were close relations and fighters.

I remember one baby who had recurrent chest infections. This mother told me her husband was an LTTE infantryman. He had not seen his baby, who was seven months old. I discharged her and didn't see her again.

They would tell us their stories.

Some people accused others of being LTTE police force members. I didn't care. We worked there with police protection. Two policemen were in the ward. One at the door, one just behind me. The first thing I would do when I went to the ward was lock all the doors, then start the ward round. I was scared of being targeted.

Babies are babies, I don't see them as Tamil, Sinhalese. I see the same smile.

Suspicion

The three doctors who supplied all the testimony about the area were not the only doctors up there all the time. Early this year and late last year there were up to 18 doctors working in the LTTE-controlled territory.

One by one they slowly came out. These doctors are now working in the IDP camps.

I feel hurt by the way the media cover this issue. They portray Sinhalese army and officials in a poor light. For me, all Tamils are the same. How many Tigers come to get treatment from us at the hospital? They are patients. It makes no difference to me.

In Vavuniya, there are separate camps for LTTE fighters. They are being separated out and produced batch-by-batch to the courts. Then some of them are ordered to rehabilitation camps.

That has to be done. These people are traumatised and they are trained to shoot.

I have been told that some people who come to hospital admit they are fighters. It seems they are worried that if they stay close to other LTTE people they will be killed. These are just the low-rank cadres.

There is a lot of suspicion around generally.




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