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The charge is genocide - mass graves in Chemmani, Jaffna - 13 July 1998
"Against partisans backed by the entire population, colonial armies are helpless. They have only one way of escaping from the harassment which demoralizes them .... This is to eliminate the civilian population. As it is the unity of a whole people that is containing the conventional army, the only anti-guerrilla strategy which will be effective is the destruction of that people, in other words, the civilians, women and children..." (Jean Paul Sartre's Statement 'On Genocide' at the Second Session of the Bertrand Russel International War Crimes Tribunal on Vietnam, held in Denmark in November 1967)
Malathy Naguleswaran, New Zealand, 11 April 1999:
" The petition below is a follow up signature campaign to an earlier campaign late last year appealing to the international community to ensure that the Sri Lankan government conducts a proper investigation into the Chemmani mass graves in Jaffna, Sri Lanka. The petition will be sent to several governments with the collected email signatures.
You may sign the petition by sending an email to: [email protected] with the subject 'Endorsing Mass Graves in Tamil Heartland Appeal'.
If you wish to read the full reports referred to in the appeal please send a request for it to the same email address above."
Note by Tamilnation: The full reports referred to in the petition have been included here under the heading - Attachments. Links to these reports have also been included at the relevant places in the body of the text of the petition. The index to the attachments appear hereunder.
27-11-97 Sri Lanka: The continuing spectre of "disappearances", says Amnesty"
03-07-98 Sri Lankan soldiers get death sentence
13-07-98 Tamils call for mass grave inquiry
31-07-98 Mass graves cover up alleged
03-08-98 Mass graves road closed.
04-08-98 Amnesty urges foreign help in S.Lanka graves probe
27-08-98 Amnesty raises fears over jailed S.Lanka soldier
25-09-98 Demonstrators demand mass grave probe in Sri Lanka
26-09-98 Sri Lanka rights group to probe disappearances
28-09-98 UN urged to excavate 'Tamil mass grave'
01-11-98 US roundtable caucus hearing on Sri Lanka human rights.
12-02-99 Court to protest Chemmani excavations plan.
18-02-99 Sri Lanka government retracts exhumation date for mass grave
26-02-99 More skeletons found in Jaffna
31-03-99 Chemmani case moves to Colombo
01-04-99 Sri Lankan court approves excavation of suspected mass graves
11-04-99 Sri Lanka's war horror unearthed
Mass Graves in Tamil Heartland in Sri Lanka
On the 3rd of July 1998, five army personnel were convicted of the rape and murder of a Tamil school girl as well as the murder of four others. They were sentenced to death. One of the soldiers, Somaratne Rajapakse, made the statement to the court that they only buried bodies but they did not commit the crimes. He stated that he can identify a mass grave at Chemmani, Jaffna where nearly 400 bodies lie buried. This statement corroborates an Amnesty International report that 600-700 people disappeared from Jaffna during the 18 month period following the capture of Jaffna by the present Government [AI-Nov97], [BBC1-July98].
Although Amnesty International reported the disappearances in November 1997, and the soldier's disclosure was made in July 1998, the Government originally made no attempt to investigate these reports. It is only after a great deal of pressure resulting from the publicity given to the soldier's disclosure that the Government took the initial step of announcing an investigation. The Criminal Investigation Department (CID) and the Sri Lankan Human Rights Commission were reportedly making efforts towards investigations [Reuters-Aug98]. These early reports were suggestive of a genuine attempt by government departments to conduct an investigation. Statements were issued that the soldier will be taken to Jaffna to identify the site [AFP1-Sept98], [Reuters-Sept98]. However, despite these public pronouncements, very little has since occurred. Indeed, we present here the very strong evidence that government officials at all levels have obstructed the investigation and trial in such a fashion so as to appease the international community but hide truth behind the mass graves.
(1) The Tamil people of Jaffna, who have suffered human rights abuses spanning 25 years, are unwilling to place their trust in an internal investigation and have demand the presence of international observers [BBC2-July98]. The Sri Lankan Human Rights Commissioner wrote to the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCHR) requesting assistance for the exhumation of the site. The UNHCHR then requested permission from with the Sri Lankan government. This has not been granted to date [AFP2-Sept98].
(2) It has been revealed that the road leading to the alleged mass grave site has been kept closed ever since the Sri Lankan army took control of Jaffna. This is the period during which the disappearances were reported. People in vicinity of the area report activities near the area late at night, raising suspicions that evidence is being tampered with [TN-July98], [TN-Aug98].
(3) Somaratne Rajapakse, the soldier who made the disclosure on the mass graves, was assaulted in prison and admitted to hospital [Reuters2-Aug98]. Amnesty International noted that the attack on Rajapakse appears to have resulted from his refusal to sign a written statement, offered to him by the guards, to the effect that he had been emotionally disturbed at the time and had made an untrue statement to the court about the mass graves. Also, in March 1999 the Government hurriedly reintroduced the death penalty to the puzzlement of the people of Sri Lanka. Suspicion is being raised that the Government may execute Rajapakse in order to silence him for good.
(4) Solid evidence has emerged of another mass grave site. Workers digging up the Duraiappah Stadium, which is next to the Jaffna Fort, have come across several human skeletons. This fort was occupied by the Sri Lankan army from 1983 to 1987, then by the Indian Peace Keeping Force force until 1987, and then again by the Sri Lankan army from 1989 to 1990. This area was out of bounds for civilians during these occupations. Although there have been disappearances in this area from 1983 to the present, very little is occurring with regard to the investigation of this site. The government has refused to say how many skeletons lie in the grave and has used armed police to keep relatives away [ST-April99].
(5) In January 1999 a hearing took place in Jaffna under judge Ekanathan, who ordered a second hearing in March. Eager to boost it's image, the foreign affairs ministry issued a public statement that Judge Ekanathan has ordered the excavation of the site. Judge Ekanathan refuted the claim and accused the ministry of interfering with the judicial process [TN-Feb99], [BBC-Feb99]. Due to judge Ekanathan's withdrawal from the case, the Government flew in judge Arulsaaharan from Colombo who ordered a geologist report on soil samples. Soil samples were taken from a site with an entourage of journalists and much publicity. It is not clear how the site was identified without Somaratne Rajapakse being present. When it came time for the follow up hearing of the geologist report, judge Arulsaaharan, who was waiting at his home in Colombo to be flown to Jaffna, was left behind and the hearing was abandoned. Subsequently a hearing took place in Colombo and the next hearing has been postponed until June 1999 [TN2-March99], [AP-April99].
To summarise, the UNHCHR request for permission to investigate the mass grave site has not been granted. There have been accusations of the army destroying evidence. Somaratne Rajapakse has been assaulted and has not been taken to Jaffna. There is evidence of not only one but at least two, and perhaps several more, mass graves in Jaffna. And finally, the judicial process has been a farce. This is all despite the fact that the United States and British governments, as well as others, have continued to urge the Sri Lankan government to investigate the mass graves [US-Nov98].
The need for a UN Investigation Team at the scene of the mass graves, jointly investigating the exhumation both at Chemmani and Duraiappah Stadium, is now clear. Those graves, and others that are to be excavated, are evidence of war crimes either by the Indian Peace Keeping Force or the Sri Lanka Army. Furthermore, the brigadiers who were in charge of Chemmani, Jaffna, as well as the overall officer in charge of Jaffna are major generals now.
For example, Major General Sri Lal Weerasoriya who was a brigadier in charge of Jaffna is now the Commander of the Armed Forces in Sri Lanka. In the same way that President Milosovic and his commanders are responsible for what happened in Bosnia, President Kumartunge, General Ratwatte and his Brigadiers are responsible for both the Chemmani Mass Grave, and the many more which are yet to come to light.
Under such burden, the Government, their Generals, Attorney Generals and their Police are not going to search for the war criminals. Justice will not be done and will not seem to be done. The UN should therefore takeover the investigations as they did in Bosnia. Thus, we request that you to support a United Nations directive to the government of Sri Lanka to grant UNHCHR permission to conduct an investigation into the disappearances and mass graves in Jaffna.
Thank you for your time and consideration,
[AI-Nov97]: Sri Lanka: The continuing spectre of "disappearances"
Amnesty International Bulletin AI INDEX: ASA 37/27/97 27 NOVEMBER 1997
An Amnesty International delegation which visited Sri Lanka recently has concluded that of the 600-odd people who have "disappeared" in the last 18 months after their arrest by the security forces, nearly all have died as a result of torture or been deliberately killed in detention.
According to the human rights organization, there is no evidence to suggest that sanction for the "disappearances" came from the political leadership, but the Sri Lankan government reacted too slowly to well-documented reports of a rise in "disappearances" in the Jaffna peninsula during mid-1996. As a result, by the time the authorities acknowledged the reality of what was happening there, around 600 people had "disappeared", and hundreds more were victims of torture at the hands of the security forces.
"Although we welcome the government's decision to make public reports into thousands of cases of "disappearance" from 1988-1994, and several other measures taken since coming to power to strengthen human rights protection, it is vitally important that the government addresses the underlying structures and practices in the security forces," Amnesty International said.
According to the organization, the events of 1996 indicate the need for an active approach to tackling the root causes of human rights violations in Sri Lanka -- the lingering sense of impunity among perpetrators and the legislation allowing for people to be detained incommunicado for long periods of time.
"In the past, Sri Lanka became a country notorious for "disappearances" -- a country racked by the terrible anguish suffered by relatives who never knew the fate of their loved ones," Amnesty International said. "The government must seize the initiative now to ensure that nobody has to go through this harrowing ordeal again."
The Sri Lankan government has taken some steps to clarify the fate of the "disappeared", establishing a Board of Investigation (BOI) to investigate around 760 complaints. The BOI to date has traced 180 of the "disappeared".
"Disappearances" usually took place in reprisal for attacks on the military by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) armed opposition group -- for example the killing of more than 1,300 soldiers during an attack on Mullaitivu army camp in July 1996.
The LTTE have also been responsible for gross human rights abuses in Jaffna and elsewhere, including indiscriminate killings of civilians during attacks on checkpoints or army patrols and summary executions of suspected informants.
After the Mullaitivu attack, the army told villagers in the Navatkuli area to gather at a local school, where they were made to file past masked informants. After a night of severe beatings in the main army camp nearby, most of those detained were released, however 39 remain unaccounted for despite numerous requests for information made by their relatives.
According to local people interviewed by Amnesty International, the bodies of some of the "disappeared" are dumped in disused wells and lavatories in or around army camps.
One 21-year-old man told how he was arrested on the way to visit his grandmother in July 1996. He was beaten with a rifle, partially suffocated with a plastic bag, throttled with a cloth and then stabbed with a bayonet in his neck and head. Semi-conscious he felt someone slice two of his fingers off to steal his rings. When he regained consciousness he found he had been dumped in a latrine.
Although the rate has dropped, Amnesty International continues to receive reports of "disappearances" in Jaffna, with around 41 cases in the first seven months of 1997, four of whom have been traced by the BOI. The organization believes that the lack of monitoring of the welfare of detainees has contributed to the high number of "disappearances", and is calling for presidential directives aimed at safeguarding the welfare of detainees -- such as "arrest receipts" to be issued whenever someone is taken into custody -- to be implemented fully.
[BBC1-July98]: Sri Lankan soldiers get death sentence, BBC, Fri Jul 3, 1998.
World: South Asia
The death sentence for her son was too much for this woman .The Sri Lankan High Court has sentenced to death five soldiers and a police officer in connection with the murder of a Tamil schoolgirl, Krishanti Kumraraswamy, and three members of her family two years ago. The 18-year-old girl was raped and killed at a military checkpoint in the northern Jaffna peninsula - which government troops recaptured from Tamil separatist rebels in 1995.
The defendants told the court that they were innocent and accused their senior officers of being responsible. One of the soldiers, Corporal Dewage Somaratne, asked by the judges why he should not be given the death penalty, said they did not kill anyone. "We only buried bodies. We can show you where 300 to 400 bodies have been buried," he said. Correspondents say that the judges are likely to refer the statements on hidden graves for further investigation by the authorities.
'Like wild animals'
Judge Gamini Abeyratne, one of the three-member jury, said: "The accused all held responsible posts in the police and armed forces. Yet, they fell upon this innocent girl like wild animals and raped and murdered her." The chief prosecutor said the evidence was very strong and justice had been done.
The BBC correspondent in Colombo says there has been widespread concern about hundreds of people who disappeared following the fall of Jaffna, but hardly any cases have been brought to court. The case attracted international attention and human rights groups welcomed the landmark judgement as an important first step.
Lawyers for the convicted soldiers said they were planning to appeal against the verdict. But our correspondent says that the death penalty has not been carried out recently in Sri Lanka and the sentences will undoubtedly be commuted to life imprisonment.
[BBC2-July98]: Tamils call for mass grave inquiry, BBC, July 13
World: South Asia %http://news.bbc.co.uk:80/hi/english/world/south_asia/newsid_131000/131989.stm
Human rights groups and politicians in Sri Lanka have called for an investigation into allegations that the security forces buried up to 400 Tamils in a mass grave in the northern Jaffna peninsula. The details of the alleged mass grave were dramatically revealed during the trial earlier this month of five soldiers and a policeman accused of murdering a 14-year-old girl, her mother, brother and a neighbour in Jaffna.
After they were found guilty, one defendant told the court he could lead officials to a shallow grave containing the bodies of hundreds of Tamil civilians who were killed by security forces. "We didn't kill anyone. We only buried bodies. We can show you where 300 to 400 bodies have been buried," he said.
'Too serious to ignore'
A senior member of the moderate Tamil party, the TULF, Neelum Tiruchelbam, said the allegations were too serious to ignore and demanded that an independent inquiry be set up.Human rights groups say that hundreds of people who were detained by the security forces in Jaffna nearly two years ago remain unaccounted for.
The families of the disappeared continue to push for information, although most have little hope that their relatives are still alive.The BBC correspondent in Colombo says that although a mass grave could exist, many are urging caution because the information came from a murderer.
A 15 year struggle
Tamil Tiger separatists have been fighting for an independent homeland for 15 years The government troops took control of the Jaffna peninsula from the Tamils in 1996 Tamils make up 18\% of the island nation's 18.5m people More than 54,000 people have died in the conflict
[TN-July98]: Mass graves cover up alleged. TamilNet, July 31 http://www.TamilNet.com/reports/98/07/3106.html
Leader of the Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF) Mr. M. Sivasithamparam, has appealed to the Human Rights Commission asking that foreign experts should be brought to excavate the mass graves at Chemmani. Between 300 and 400 people who disappeared whilst in military custody in Jaffna are alleged to have been buried in the graves.
The Ministry of Defence said last week that it had advised the Criminal Investigation Department of the Sri Lankan Police to launch investigations into the alleged mass graves. A statement issued by the Defence Ministry said "the Government is fully committed to safeguarding human lives" and "the due legal process will be observed to bring to book the offenders".
The Human Rights Commission, however, said that there are indications that some interested parties would try to alter the topography of the location of the mass graves to remove clues or traces and urged the Sri Lankan Government to protect the areas of Chemmani.
Meanwhile, in an interview with the Jaffna based Tamil daily Uthayan, Major General Sarath Munasinghe of the 51st Division assured the Jaffna public that they need not fear the mass graves at Chemmani would be dug up and the evidence destroyed by the Sri Lanka Army. He said the SLA's objective was not to destroy evidence and in a cover-up, but help verify the truth.
[TN-Aug98]: Mass graves road closed, TamilNet, August 03, 1998.
"Why is the Sri Lanka Army (SLA) keeping the Kaithady-Nallur Road passing through Chemmani closed? This has led to suspicion and unease in the Jaffna public, and the SLA should take steps to open it as early as possible" said a resolution passed by People's Power Forum (PPF), a civic organisation in Jaffna, headed by former Jaffna Municipal Commissioner, Mr. C. V. K. Sivagnanam, when it met on Sunday.
Chemmani shot into prominence suddenly, when the first accused in the Krishanthi Kumaraswamy rape and murder trial told court that the bodies of 400 people murdered by the SLA after taking control of Jaffna in late 1995 were buried there.
With the closure of the Kaithady-Nallur Road there is no movement of civilians in the Chemmani area, said sources in Jaffna.
The PPF also passed a resolution critical of the across the board cut of 36% in the provision of relief to displaced families by the Commissioner General of Essential Services.
The resolution said that in the event such a cut was recommended, the authorities should have calculated which divisional secretary areas with refugees would be more affected than others by the cutbacks, and modified the programme accordingly.
The PPF also adopted a resolution condemning Sri Lanka Government (SLG) institutions such as the Co-operative Wholesale Establishment (CWE) and the Building Materials Corporation (BMC) which are meant to provide goods and material directly to the public, for releasing their stocks to traders instead, who sell them in the open market, said sources.
The PPF is a civic organisation which takes up public issues and has been rendering sterling service to the Jaffna public after the SLA captured the area in Operation Riviresa and the subsequent migration of Tamils out of the Peninsula, said sources.
[Reuters1-Aug98]: Amnesty urges foreign help in S.Lanka graves probe, Aug 04, 1998.
Eastern COLOMBO, Aug 4
Amnesty International has urged Sri Lanka to invite international forensic experts to help local authorities if a preliminary probe confirms the existence of mass graves in northern Jaffna peninsula.
The London-based human rights group said in a statement that it had appealed to Sri Lankan authorities to ensure that investigations were done properly so that evidence collected was admissible in court.
``It is the experience of leading forensic experts around the world that the exhumations of bodies piled on top of each other in restricted places...is one of the most complex forms of exhumations to be carried out,'' the statement said. ``The organisation therefore urges that, if indeed this is confirmed by the preliminary investigations, that forensic experts...be invited to assist local experts in the exhumations.''
Sri Lanka last month ordered a police investigation into a report of mass graves in Jaffna where Amnesty has said as many as 600 people had ``disappeared.'' The investigation was launched after a soldier, sentenced to death for the murder of a teenage schoolgirl, said he would identify 400 graves of Tamil youths in Jaffna's Chemmani area.
The soldier, Rajapakse Jayasinghe, was among five others and a policeman sentenced to death by a court for the rape and murder of schoolgirl Krishanthi Kumaraswamy, her mother, brother and neighbour in Jaffna in September 1996. Sri Lanka's Human Rights Commission too has launched an independent investigation into the allegation and has said it would question the soldier.
Local newspapers reported last week that the soldier who made the claims was expected to be taken soon to Jaffna by police to identify the alleged site. Amnesty said last year that the 600 people had disappeared when government troops took control of the peninsula after driving out Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) rebels from their long-time stronghold.
The LTTE has been fighting for a separate homeland for minority Tamils in Sri Lanka's north and east since 1983.
[Reuters2-Aug98]: Amnesty raises fears over jailed S.Lanka soldier, 27Aug 98.
SRI LANKA: COLOMBO
Amnesty International has expressed concern over the safety of a jailed Sri Lankan soldier who has alleged there are 400 graves of Tamils who "disappeared" in the northern Jaffna peninsula. The international human rights watchdog issued a statement on Thursday expressing concern following an attack on former lance corporal Somaratne Rajapakse by prison guards last week. "There are fears for the safety of Rajapakse...following an attack on him by prison guards on August 23, 1998," said the statement.
The soldier was among five others and a policeman who were sentenced to death by a court in July for the rape and murder of a schoolgirl followed by the slaying of her mother, brother and a neighbour in Jaffna in September 1996. During the trial, Rajapakse told the court that 300 to 400 bodies were also buried at Chemmani village in Jaffna, where the bodies of the four victims were found.
The allegation of mass graves in Jaffna raised an uproar among human rights groups, and Tamil political parties had called for a probe into the report. The government has ordered the police criminal investigation department to carry out a full scale investigation into the allegation, while the Human Rights Commission is also conducting an inquiry.
After recording statements from the soldier and his fellow convicts, police have requested the court release the soldier into their custody for further investigation, officials said. Amnesty said the attack on Rajapakse appears to have resulted from his refusal to sign a written statement offered to him by the guards to the effect that he had been emotionally disturbed at the time and had made an untrue statement to the court about the mass graves. There was no immediate comment available from the goverment.
Amnesty said last year some 600 people disappeared in Jaffna in 1996 when government troops took control of the peninsula after driving out Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) rebels from their long-time stronghold. The LTTE have been fighting for a separate homeland in Sri Lanka's north and east since 1983, accusing the Sinhalese majority of oppressing Tamil minority.(C) Reuters Limited 1998.
[AFP1-Sept98]: Demonstrators demand mass grave probe in Sri Lanka , Sept 25.
COLOMBO, Sept 25 (AFP) -
Hundreds of people Friday picketed the offices of the Human Rights Commission in Sri Lanka's northern Jaffna town Friday to press for a speedy probe into an alleged mass grave, civil rights workers said.
The demonstrators squatted in front of the office throughout the day to press their demand, they said. The picketing campaign was organised by the "Mother's Front" and the relatives of people who had disappeared while in army custody and several other organisations, they added. A soldier, facing the death sentence, had alleged that more than 400 bodies of Tamil civilians killed by the forces were buried in the mass grave at Chemmani in Jaffna peninsula.
The soldier and five others were sentenced to death for the rape and murder of a teenage schoolgirl in Jaffna. They were also found guilty of the murder of the mother, brother and a relative of the girl. The soldier made the sensational disclosure in the court moments before the judge delivered the verdict.
The government had promised a thorough probe into the allegation. The National Human Rights Commission also had initiated independent investigation, but the inquiries had been delayed due to technial and procedural reasons. The civil rights activists said more than 600 ethnic Tamils had disappeared after the government forces took control of the peninsula, a former bastion of the separatist Tamil Tiger guerrillas, in early 1996. They also expressed fear about the safety of those who were being taken into custody by the forces now as the relatives were not being informed where they were being held.
[Reuters-Sept98]: Sri Lanka rights group to probe disappearances, Sept 26.
A top official of Sri Lanka's Human Rights Commission (HRC) will visit Jaffna to investigate allegations that hundreds of local people had disappeared since government troops captured the former rebel stronghold.
The decision follows claims by hundreds of people in Jaffna that the authorities were dragging their feet on investigating the disappearances, an HRC official said on Saturday. HRC Secretary T Suntheralingam told Reuters he would visit Jaffna, the main town in northern Sri Lanka, in early October to record the statements of family members of those who had disappeared there.
``Some time ago, an organisation in Jaffna gave us a list of some 400 people who are believed to have disappeared. I have agreed to go and take statements from people and investigate this,'' Suntheralingam said.
Hundreds of people, mostly mothers of the missing, took to the streets of Jaffna on Friday demanding that the investigation into the disappearances be speeded up, residents said.
The protesters marched to the HRC office in Jaffna and demanded to speak to an official in Colombo about the disappearances and reports of mass graves.
A soldier sentenced to death by a court in Colombo for the murder of a teenage Tamil schoolgirl has said he is prepared to identify 400 graves of Tamil youths who are alleged to have disappeared in Jaffna.
``When they contacted me, I told them we alone can't do it. The government also plays a vital part,'' Suntheralingam said. The UN Human Rights Commission had agreed to send experts to Sri Lanka to help with the investigation, he added.
``We will be writing to President Chandrika Kumaratunga early next week informing her of the UN request,'' Suntheralingam said.
The human rights watchdog Amnesty International said last year that 600 people had disappeared in Jaffna in 1996 when government troops took over the area from the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).
The LTTE are fighting for a separate homeland for Sri Lanka's minority Tamils in the north and east of the island nation.
[AFP2-Sept98]: UN urged to excavate 'Tamil mass grave', Sept 28 1998.
South China Morning Post
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE in Colombo A rights group has called on the UN to dig up a suspected mass grave of 500 Tamil civilians in northern Sri Lanka.
The Guardians' Association for Persons Arrested and Disappeared in the North made the appeal in a letter signed by 10,000 people and sent to the United Nations Human Rights Commissioner, Mary Robinson.
Group head P. Selvarajah said people were "really annoyed and impatient with the attitude of the Sri Lankan Government", which is "purposely delaying" exhumation.
He also cast doubt on the impartiality of the Human Rights Commission established by the Government to probe alleged massacres. Sources in the commission said one of its officers would visit the northern Jaffna peninsula soon to collect more information about the missing people.
They said the UN had already informed the commission it could not help in the exhumation of the grave at Chemmani as it had no permission from the Government. The claim about the mass grave was made in July by a soldier serving a 30-year prison term along with five others for the rape and murder of a teenage schoolgirl in Jaffna.
They were also found guilty of the murder of the girls' mother, brother and a relative.The soldier said more than 400 bodies of civilians killed by government troops were buried in the mass grave. According to human rights organisations, more than 600 people disappeared in the peninsula, a former Tamil rebel bastion, after it was captured by government forces in early 1996.
Hundreds of people held a demonstration outside the commission's office in Jaffna on Friday, asking the Government to speed up the massacre probe. Reports said the relatives of the missing were planning to petition for a court order to open the grave with police assistance.
Tamil Tiger rebels attacked the army's defences south of Paranthan in Killinochchi district, leaving 40 rebels and nine soldiers dead, the military said. Nine guerillas were killed elsewhere.
[US-Nov99]: US roundtable caucus hearing on Sri Lanka human rights.
US Congressional Human Rights Caucus Briefing March 1999
US State Department Human Rights Report 1998
[TN-Feb99]: Court to protest Chemmani excavations plan. TamilNet, February 12.
Legal sources in Jaffna expressed shock and dismay at the statement by the Sri Lanka's foreign Ministry on Wednesday and by the SLA spokesman, Brig.Sunil Tennekoon yesterday that the alleged mass grave at Chemmani would be exhumed on March 5, according to orders of the Jaffna court.
They said that the Jaffna district additional judge Mr.S.A.E Ekanathan had only postponed the case to March 5 and that he had not even inspected the site of the alleged grave in Chemmani on January 8 as claimed in the foreign ministry statement.
They said the action of the Sri Lankan Foreign Ministry and the army spokesman constituted a blatant interference in the judicial process and contempt of the courts.
They said the Foreign Ministry statement of February 10 which says, inter alia
" On January 8, after visiting the area the magistrate S.A.E Ekanathan observed that the area in question was inundated due to heavy rains and the ground condition was not conducive for exhumation work to begin immediately; in the circumstances the magistrate ordered that the exhumation work be carried out on March, 5 1999."
Jaffna legal sources said that this is a total fabrication by the Foreign Ministry.
The foreign ministry's claim was reiterated by the SLA spokesman Brigadier Sunil Tennekoon at the cabinet press briefing yesterday.
The military spokesman (MS) and the Foreign Ministry (FM) stated that independent forensic experts, media and NGOs would be permitted to see the exhumation which, according to the MS and the FM, is "to commence on March 5".
On January 8 the Criminal Investigation Division of the Sri Lankan Police made an application in the Jaffna courts:
1. to obtain an order for exhumation of the alleged human remains at Chemmani.
2. to order the commissioner of prisons to produce suspect ex-Lance Corporal Rajapaksa to identify the alleged place of burial at Chemmani.
3. to order Prof.Chandrasiri Niriella (forensic expert) and M.A.J Mendis, additional government analyst (ballistic), to assist the exhumation work.
The judge allowed only the application for obtaining the services of the forensic expert and the government analyst, instructing the CID to also secure the expertise of a soil analyst.
The judge on Jan.8 put off inquiry into the other applications by the CID, i.e. for exhuming the alleged gravesite and for producing the ex-Lance Corporal to identify site at Chemmani, for March 5.
The judge ordered the CID to take a copy of the court proceedings on January 8.
In these circumstances, the pronouncements of the Foreign Ministry and SLA spokesman are blatant fabrications and constitute contempt of court and interference in the judicial process said a Jaffna legal source.
The matter, in the first place, is also sub judice he added.
The Jaffna additional judge will be sending a strong complaint to the judicial services commission today the sources said.
[BBC-Feb99]: Sri Lanka government retracts exhumation date for mass grave, Thu Feb 18.
The Sri Lankan foreign ministry says that an earlier announcement concerning the exhumation of alleged mass graves in the northern Jaffna peninsula was incorrect.
It now says that no date has been set for the exhumation of the site, which is alleged to contain the bodies of three hundred Tamils who disappeared after army arrest.
The government said last week that a local magistrate had ordered the operation to be carried out on March 5. It also said he had visited the site . The latest foreign ministry statement said that this was not the case, and referred to what it called a genuine error caused by miscommunication between government agencies.
From the newsroom of the BBC World Service
[TN1-March99]: Skeletons found in Jaffna, TamilNet, March 26, 1999.
Jaffna municipal workers digging a cesspit near the Duraippa stadium came upon a number of human skeletons today. The Jaffna Municipal Council stopped the work today following the discovery. According to initial reports, there are several rows of human skeletons in the place where the cesspit was dug.
Municipal workers had found many bone fragments just beneath the surface when they had started work last week.They had ignored the fragments, assuming that they were from the carcasses of animals slaughtered in the area during peace time in Jaffna more than a decade ago.
However, yesterday they had come upon a human skull. And later the municipal diggers had found what appears to be a row of skeletons piled up and buried. Sources in Jaffna said that bodies could have been buried when this spot was a no go area for civilians.
[TN2-March99]: Chemmani case moves to Colombo. TamilNet, March 31, 1999
Mr.Yasantha Kothagoda, a senior counsel in Sri Lanka's Attorney General's Department, said today that the Chemmani case will be taken up in the Colombo magistrate's court tomorrow.
However, Mr. N. Arulsaagaran, the magistrate dealing with the case currently said that he is not aware that the AG department is planning to take up the case in Colombo.
But he added that he would going for duty at the Colombo magistrate court as usual tomorrow.
The magistrate, apparently annoyed by the information, said he was also unaware as to how the AG had decided to change the venue of the judicial process relating to the investigation of the alleged mass graves in Chemmani from Jaffna to Colombo.
Mr. Arulsaagaran pointed out that the AG had not got in touch with him about the case after March 5 when he was flown to Jaffna with journalists, forensic experts, CID officials and a geologist for gathering soil samples from the Chemmani area.
[AP-April99]: Sri Lankan court approves excavation of suspected mass graves, April 1, 1999.
COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (AP) -- A magistrate cleared the way Thursday for digging to begin at a site in northern Sri Lanka where government soldiers allegedly killed and buried hundreds of ethnic Tamils.
Excavation at the site in the northern Jaffna peninsula will be carried out June 6, nearly one year after a soldier first made the allegation, said senior state counsel Yasantha Kodagoda.
Magistrate N. Arulsaharam set the date after examining a report by the Criminal Investigation Department on soil tests conducted last month. Kodagoda refused to discuss the report.
The soldier, whose name has not been released, said he knew at least 400 bodies of Tamils were buried in mass graves near Jaffna city. He has been convicted of raping and murdering a Tamil teen-ager.
Arulsaharam traveled last month from Colombo to Jaffna, 186 miles north of the capital, to begin the investigation. Local courts had given up the case following a threat to the judges by the main Tamil rebel group, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam.
The Tigers, fighting for a separate homeland for minority Tamils since 1983, said they had no faith in the Sri Lankan judicial system and demanded an international group probe the allegation.
Tamil Tiger rebels seized Jaffna in 1990 and governed more than one million people in the territory until the army recaptured the city in 1996.
The Tigers accuse the majority Sinhalese of widespread discrimination in education and jobs, a charge the government denies. Over 57,000 people have been killed since 1983.
[ST-April99]: Sri Lanka's war horror unearthed , Sunday Times - UK, 11 April 99.
THEY were digging for peace when they uncovered evidence of the brutality of war. As labourers sank the foundations for new changing rooms at the Duraiyappah stadium in northern Sri Lanka, their spades struck bones.
Renovation of the stadium had been hailed as a sign that normality had returned to the Jaffna peninsula, the battle-scarred heartland of the Tamils. Instead, it exposed a secret atrocity in a 16-year-old conflict between the Sinhalese majority and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam that has claimed more than 50,000 lives.
The government has refused to say how many skeletons lie in the grave and has used armed police to keep relatives away. But as the battered skins of six oil drums were pulled back last week to reveal a pit a few feet across, horrified villagers clutching the identity cards of missing sons and husbands pressed forward to glimpse layers of skulls and broken vertebrae crushed into hardened clay 3ft below the turf.
Paramanthan Selvarajah was in the crowd. He said he was looking for his son, Pirapakaran, who disappeared in July 1996 at the age of 24 after being taken by the Sri Lankan army (SLA) as he rode home past a checkpoint in Jaffna.
"I saw his bike lying behind a bunker and heard him crying inside," he said. "We never saw him again." Pirapakaran, a tailor, is among more than 12,000 predominantly Tamil civilians believed to have disappeared since the war began.
It is the second time in nine months that Jaffna families have gathered at a mass grave. Last July an SLA corporal revealed the existence of a secret burial ground beneath the Chemmani salt flats, four miles from Jaffna town, where he claimed 400 Tamil civilians had been executed - the first acknowledgment by the army that some of those missing had been secretly killed.
The discovery of the two graves has brought new heartache to the tiny, crab-claw shaped Jaffna peninsula blighted by years of conflict. It was fought over in the 1980s by the Tigers and the Sri Lankan security forces, and was ruthlessly policed by an Indian peacekeeping force for four years until 1990. It was finally seized by the SLA in December 1995 after 800,000 Tamil civilians fled or were killed.
The government insists "normality" has since returned. More than 400,000 Tamils have come back. Pigtailed girls ride their bicycles to school every morning and fishermen ply the Jaffna lagoon. However, it is a peace requiring the presence of more than 30,000 police and soldiers in Jaffna to enforce it. Checkpoints block every road and the farmland is riddled with landmines. Few Tamils are allowed to leave - and those who return are scrupulously screened by the army.
What normality there is ends with curfew at 9pm and the dull thump of nightly shelling begins as the army and the Tigers exchange fire. Last week four soldiers patrolling the village of Kilali were killed by an anti-tank mine freshly laid by the Tigers.
A few days earlier Meheshwaree Jayaratnam, a mother, lost her leg and her unborn child when she stood on an army mine in a Kilali field. "We are still at war," she said from her hospital bed.
Beyond her village a full-scale battle is raging, barely 30 miles from Jaffna town. Villages have been transformed into army bases and trees felled for bunkers and roadblocks.
More than 4,000 government soldiers have already died, with 24,000 injured, in an operation launched by the army in May 1997 to win control of the nearby A9 highway, the only land link between the peninsula and the rest of Sri Lanka, as it crosses Elephant Pass.
Commanders of the estimated 10,000 government troops dug in around Paranthan, a dusty, deserted village on a critical crossroads, are still confident of eventual victory. "We could take back this territory at any time," said Brigadier S B Kulatunge, the deputy commander of Elephant Pass. "It's a war of attrition. If we kill just one Tiger it has been a successful day."
Although outnumbered five to one, the force of 2,000 Tigers ranged against them is not giving up. A mixture of men and teenage girls - all with cyanide capsules around their necks to be swallowed in the event of capture - they blast the Sri Lankan lines every day with megaphone messages as well as bullets, leafleting the Tamil farmers with warnings to leave the area in preparation for a full-scale Tiger attack.
It is also a conflict in which Britain appears to be playing a role - on both sides. The Tigers' international secretariat, based in London, is co-ordinating a fundraising drive that is thought to be netting up to £150m a month.
The British government recently approved 47 export licences for arms sales to the Sri Lankan security forces. There have been reports that members of the SAS have been unofficially drafted in to advise the security forces, although the British High Commission in Colombo says it has no knowledge of their presence.
For people gathered behind the stadium, however, it is the fate of their loved ones that remains their chief concern.