Sri Lankan authorities have excavated nearly 100 skeletons at a mass grave in Mannar, located in Sri Lanka’s Northern Province, where state armed forces and Tamil rebels clashed in a 30-year civil war.
According to local media reports, some locals living in the Tamil-majority province, whose relatives went missing during and after the war, have raised concern about the bodies possibly having links to the many enforced disappearances reported in Mannar.
However, investigating officials said it would be difficult to establish any connection before a comprehensive analysis and accurate carbon dating. “We are on our 58th day of excavation and so far, nearly 100 skeletons have been found. We have kept the remains in a separate room in the magistrate court premises,” Consultant Judicial Medical Officer (JMO) W.R.A.S. Rajapaksa told The Hindu on Monday. Mr. Rajapaksa, attached to the District General Hospital in Mannar, is the chief investigator, working with the team of medical officers, forensic experts and senior archaeologists. “A few circular objects”, resembling rings and bangles were also found with the bodies, he said.
Of the skeletal remains, at least eight bodies were of children, senior archaeologist Raj Somadeva — excavating at the site — told The Hindu . The excavation began in May this year, based a court order, after construction workers reported sighting apparent skeletal remains at a site in Mannar.
Once the excavation is complete, the bones will have to be tested and analysed further to establish the duration of decomposition. The JMO has recommended that samples be sent to a laboratory in the United States for advanced forensic analysis. The Ministry of Justice will take a final call, officials said.
This is the second major instance of dozens of bodies being exhumed in Mannar since the war ended in 2009. In February 2014, as many as 30 skulls were found near a mass grave at the famed Thiruketheeswaram temple, but the investigation was not completed. Earlier in the 1990s, a mass grave was found in Jaffna, also in the former war zone.
In other instances, mass graves were found in the central and southern parts of the island. In March 2013, a Sri Lankan judge pointed to evidence indicating that 150 human skulls and bones, recovered from a mass grave Matale in Sri Lanka’s Central Province, had been buried there about 25 years ago. The observation strengthened suspicion that they belonged to rebels killed during state crackdown of the armed insurrection by the radical Janata Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) in the late 1980s. The investigation is incomplete.
Mr. Somadeva, who was also involved in the Matale excavations, observed that the recently found Mannar mass grave was “very different”. “In Matale, the bodies were laid next to each other. Here, it seems to be a case of dumping. Many bodies have just been piled in limited space. That is what makes excavation very difficult,” he said.