Skeletal remains of nearly 80 bodies have been excavated in Mannar in Sri Lanka’s Northern Province, which bore the brunt of the brutal war between the Sri Lankan armed forces and the Tamil militants.

Amid allegations that the bodies could be those of Tamil civilians, the government, in its response to a report by U.N. Human Rights Chief Navi Pillay’s report on Sri Lanka, has suggested that the people were those killed when the LTTE controlled the area, or when it was occupied by the IPKF — a military operation by India between 1987 and 1990.

“With regard to the recovery of skeletal remains, it has been revealed that the area had been occupied by the LTTE for 30 years, except during the period 1988/89 when it was occupied by the IPKF, till the area was liberated in 2008, it was not under the control of the GoSL” the government said in a statement on Tuesday.

The matter is being investigated by the police under the supervision of the Magistrate of Mannar. Asked whether there was any indication of when the bodies were buried, forensic pathologist Dhananjaya Waidyaratne, who heads the forensic exercise, said it was difficult to say anything now for, the bone fragments had to be examined.

Speaking to The Hindu, the judicial medical officer said: “We have put the fragments in 80 boxes according to where they were found. The actual number of bodies could even be more than 80.”

In December 2013, a group of construction workers working at Thirukatheeswaram, Mannar, spotted the skeletal remains, sparking a new controversy over the alleged killings of Tamil civilians in the area. Some even feared that these were bodies of persons now considered missing — a government constituted commission is compiling details of complaints of disappearances.

The government ordered excavation of the area, and the exercise that began on December 23 resumed on Monday after it was suspended for some time.