Sri Lanka mass grave unearths ghosts from troubled past

Wed Dec 19, 2012 3:20am EST
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By Shihar Aneez

MATALE, Sri Lanka (Reuters) - A mass grave unearthed in Sri Lanka has stirred memories of the country's bloody insurgencies and sparked calls for an official inquiry in the island nation that has drawn global scrutiny for its chequered human rights record.

At a building site near a hospital in Matale, a central town 142 km (88 miles) from the capital, Colombo, excavators have found the skeletons, or parts of the skeletons, of at least 59 people.

It is possible they died of natural causes many years ago but in a country rocked by two different insurgencies beginning in the early 1970s, the assumption many people are jumping to is that they are some of the forgotten victims of the violence in which more than 150,000 people were killed.

Ajith Jayasena, the judicial medical officer at the hospital adjacent to the site, is keeping an open mind.

"We can't exactly say when they have been buried. These could be missing people," Jayasena said, using a euphemism for victims of political violence.

"It is better if we can investigate this thoroughly. That is the most important question," he said, referring to when they were buried.

Politicians and officials have called for an investigation by a government under pressure from the United Nations to address human rights problems and the deaths of thousands of civilians during the final months of a three-decade war with ethnic Tamil rebels in 2009.

The government has been widely condemned by human rights organizations for failing to properly investigate alleged war crimes. It rejects all accusations of rights violations.   Continued...

A police officer covers part of a dead body at a building site in Matale, a central town 142 km (88 miles) from the capital, Colombo, December 16, 2012. REUTERS/Dinuka Liyanawatte