Digging of the graves of 11 Japanese soldiers killed during World War II began at the Guwahati War Cemetery at Nabagraha here on Wednesday morning in the presence of a three-member high-level Japanese delegation. However, till sunset no significant remains could be exhumed.
Digging will resume on Thursday morning.
Regional Manager (NE-India) of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC), Salew Pfotte, told The Hindu that this was the first time in India that any World War II cemetery graves maintained by the CWGC was being dug up to recover grave remains.
Mr. Pfotte said that there are nine war cemeteries maintained by the CWGC in India. Five are in the northeast — Kohima, Guwahati, two in Imphal and Digboi. The remaining are in Delhi, Kolkata, Chennai and Pune.
“Guwahati is the only war cemetery among the nine war cemeteries in India which has war graves of Japanese soldiers. We have been informed that records available with Japanese government suggest that the remains of the 11 Japanese soldiers had been buried in wooden boxes,” he said.
The Japanese delegation included Deputy Director of the Office of Foreign Affairs and Planning Division of War Victims' Relief, Ken Miyashita; First Secretary in Embassy of Japan, New Delhi, Koju Matsubayshi; and technical expert Masahiro Takeda. They were accompanied by an Indian interpreter Ms. Mala.
Mr. Pfotte said that the process began in November 2010 when he received intimation from the CWGC headquarters about the Japanese government's initiative to recover the remains of Japanese war martyrs buried at the cemetery here. This was followed by a visit of the three-member Japanese official delegation to the cemetery in the same month.
In a communiqué to the Ministry of External Affairs on December 9 last about the visit of the Japanese delegation to the Guwahati war cemetery from January 17 to 23, the Embassy of Japan conveyed that the “purpose of the visit is to recover and return to Japan the 11 pieces of Japanese war dead in Commonwealth cemetery maintained by Guwahati Branch of Commonwealth War Graves Commission.”
The 11 soldiers of Japanese forces who died in World War II were Lance Corporal Miyata Kotsuo (died on September 13, 1944) and 10 soldiers — Komatsutomoshige (September 8, 1944), Morata Doshu ( September 10, 1944), Yamado Kesakti (September 5, 1944), Okamoto (January 8, 1945), Kito Zawo (September 2, 1944), Ikdmiraisao ( September 2, 1944), Shotasaburo (August 31, 1944), Ishiwara Hiroja (no date mentioned), Urata Yotaka (August 8, 1944) and Hachivetsuyoshi (November 25, 1944).
Deputy Director of Archaeology Department, Deepirekha Kouli, who was present at the excavation site to assist the Japanese delegation, said some samples were collected from the graves.
However, nothing could be said without the samples being ascertained by a forensic scientist. Senior Scientific Officer, Assam Forensic Science Laboratory, Athang Singson, said nothing significant had been recovered so far.
Nodal officer of Kamrup (Metropolitan) district, Jatindra Nath Pathak, said that the Japanese delegation was bearing the expenses for digging the graves while the Assam government had extended all other assistance. He said the Japanese delegation would take samples, if recovered, either in a sterilised form or after burning them. The Assam government would arrange for burning of the grave remains, if required by the delegation, at the Nabagraha or Bhutanath crematorium here, he added.
The Guwahati cemetery has 521 graves, including 316 known and 18 unknown graves of soldiers from the United Kingdom, 136 known and seven unknown Indian soldiers, four from Canada, four from South Africa, one from New Zealand, two graves of soldiers whose nationality is unknown, 11 graves of Japanese soldiers and 24 graves of Chinese Army soldiers.