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Secret graveyards rise to haunt Sri Lanka
see also The charge is genocide - mass graves in Jaffna
New York Times reported on 29 August 2001:
Chemmani Checkpoint, Sri Lanka -- The bones of 15 people beaten to death by soldiers in 1996 were unearthed two years ago from hidden graves around this desolate military checkpoint.But no one has been put on trial for the killings. And the skeletons were only recently sent to be identified through DNA testing. Secret graveyards like this one are scattered across Sri Lanka, a small island tormented by violent conflict.
Since the late 1980s, more than 20,000 people have vanished after being taken into government custody. While the vast majority of disappearances occurred before President Chandrika Kumaratunga came to power in 1994, atrocities by government forces have continued and almost 700 have disappeared since then, according to Amnesty International.
The Chemmani cases in particular have come to be seen as a test of Kumaratunga's commitment to prosecute the worst spate of human rights abuses that occurred during her tenure.
The excruciatingly slow progress has deepened mistrust of her government.
Two years ago, after a soldier divulged a site where bodies were buried, relatives of some of the hundreds of separatist Tamil rebels who vanished in 1996 huddled here to watch investigators painstakingly sweep away topsoil to reveal the graves.
Some parents, anxious to know if the disinterred were their children, wonder why it was only this summer that the skeletons were finally sent to India, Sri Lanka's huge neighbor to the north, for DNA testing to identify the victims.
"Why are they delaying this identification?" said Paramanathan Selvarajah, 67, whose son was taken into army custody at the checkpoint five years ago and never seen again. "The government is happy that our children were killed."
The government insists that it is methodically investigating 154 disappearances from 1996 in which there is some evidence the security forces were involved. It expects to make a decision about prosecuting some suspects by the end of the year. The delays in the DNA testing resulted from competitive bidding that took a year to complete, officials said.
But researchers and human rights workers say Kumaratunga's government has much more aggressively pursued cases of disappearances that occurred before she took office. continued