Eleven human skeletons have been recovered in four days of court-ordered digging at a mass grave site in Manthai area of Mannar district in North West Sri Lanka.
It was on December 20 that Water Board staff laying underground pipes had stumbled on a grave containing three bodies laid in a row not far from the ancient Thirukketeeswaram temple. When informed, the Mannar Magistrate, Ananthy Kanakaratnam, ordered systematic digging, and by Monday evening 11 bodies, kept in neat rows, were discovered, according to Northern Province Minister for Fisheries B Deniswaran.
Speaking to Express after visiting the site, Deniswaran said that the JMO had suspended the digging till Saturday citing technical reasons. Experts’ assistance had been called for, he said.
According to him it is too early to say whether the skeletal remains are those of Tamils or other ethnic groups, though the general impression is that they are those of Tamils captured or abducted by the Lankan army about 10 years ago. The area was under the control of the army at that time, the Minister said.
Rights worker Shreen Saroor recalled that between 1992 and 1996, many youth had disappeared from Mannar district, suggesting that these remains could be those of the disappeared.
Till the end of the war Manthai was a high security zone and there had been a huge army camp as well, she added.
Meanwhile, mass graves had been discovered before in Sri Lanka.
They were an offshoot of the phenomenon of forced disappearances and adductions which were part of the 30-year war on terror.
In 1998, the Chemmani mass grave contained 15 bodies. The Duraiappah Stadium mass grave, found in 1999, had 25 skeletons. There were eight skeletons in the Murusuvil grave found in 2000. All the sites were in Jaffna district.
In South Sri Lanka, mass graves were found in Suriyakanda, Ankumbura, Nikaweratiya and Matale.
The Matale Base Hospital grave, found in 2012, had 150 bodies. These graves were said to contain bodies of Sinhalese rebels belonging to the leftist Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP).
Investigations into the mass graves had not led to any conclusions or convictions.