Although the report on the radiocarbon dating test on the samples of skeletal remains from the mass grave in Mannar has been handed over to the Magistrate’s Court by Specialist JMO Saminda Rajapaksa, Mannar Magistrate T. Saravanarajah told court that as the courts had still not received the report officially, a specific statement on it cannot be made.
This was revealed when the case filed at the Mannar Magistrate’s Court by the relatives of the missing persons in connection with the Mannar mass grave was taken up on Wednesday.
The Magistrate noted that although Specialist JMO Saminda Rajapaksa had submitted the report to the courts, a complete report had still not been officially received.
He said only the doctor had received the report and a hard copy is scheduled to be given to the court and once it is received the relevant parties would be notified.
Hence the case filed by the relatives of the missing regarding the Mannar mass grave was postponed to February 25.
Mannar mass grave excavations
With the discovery of several bone fragments during the construction of the Mannar Sathosa Complex in early 2018, further excavations at the site commenced on May 16. Professor Raj Somadeva of the Kelaniya University and Mannar JMO Saminda Rajapaksa were appointed to direct the excavation process. Accordingly, by February 18, 2019, the team had engaged in excavations at the Mannar mass grave site for 146 working days except for government holidays and vacation periods.
So far the excavation team has recovered 316 complete skeletal structures, while 307 of them have been handed over to the Mannar courts. Among these skeletal structures that were handed over to the courts, 26 skeletons have been identified as those of children.
Meanwhile, 12 skeletal parts were excavated on December 19 and 20 of 2018 in the presence of a team of specialist judicial medical officers, government analysts and state attorneys, to be sent for carbon dating to a lab in Florida, USA. Under the first stage, six skeletal parts were handed over to the Florida lab on January 25, 2019.
History of the site
The Mannar mass grave site had been used as a public cemetery from 1944, and from 1970 to 1971, it had been used as a place for fishermen and carters to rest. Then in 1971, the Marketing Department stall was established at this location and around 1985 people had started building shops behind this area (Periya Kade). Residents claim that even at that time skeletal parts were discovered, but they had buried them and constructed their stalls and shops.
Meanwhile, as the Marketing Department was suffering losses, it was closed down sometime between 1989 and 1990. Then in 1991, the People’s Bank branch in the Sinnakadai area had been shifted to this location and in 2010, it was taken to its current location in Uppukulam. Thereafter, the Sathosa Complex was established at this location in 2011, where the current mass grave site has been located.
Mysterious collection of blood and saliva samples
Meanwhile, some of the relatives of the missing persons in Mannar said a group had been collecting saliva and blood samples from these family members of the missing at the Mannar District Women’s Organization office in Elutur with the mediation of the Women’s Organisation President named Maha Lakshmi.
The relatives of those missing were taken secretively to their office in batches and their blood and saliva samples were collected where the saliva was tagged and stored in plastic pouches, while the tagged blood samples were stored in coolers. The people were told that the woman engaged in collecting the samples had received special training in Guatemala. However, it is believed that no prior legal permission had been obtained for this purpose.
It is also believed that the blood and saliva samples that were collected are to be sent to the USA for DNA testing with the bone samples excavated from the mass grave. This team had also collected copies of the birth certificates of the missing persons’ families from whom the blood and saliva samples were obtained, including two photos of their missing relative and the date the police complaint regarding the disappearance was lodged and written proof of it.
Three of these foreigners who had arrived from Guatemala had held a meeting with the families of the missing persons at the Women’s Organization in Eluthur, Mannar, from 8.30 am to 1.30 pm on February 7. Here, the meeting was organised by the said Maha Lakshmi and the participants at this meeting had been shown a demonstration of how DNA is matched.
Around 40 of the families of the missing persons had participated and the foreigners had assured them that they would trace at least one of their missing relatives through this DNA testing process. The group of foreigners from Guatemala are said to be staying in the country for around one month and is expected to carry out the same tests and educate people in the Jaffna, Mullaitivu, Trincomalee and Batticaloa districts, according to reliable sources.
However, there were no reports about this team officially, and officials deny any knowledge of this group or their activities.
Site visited by many diplomats and VIPs
Meanwhile, the Mannar mass grave site has drawn great attention from both local and international quarters, including diplomats and other groups such as the media.
According to information gathered by the Daily News, the Canadian Ambassador, a Netherland Professor, a Northern Provincial Councillor, an American embassy representative and his translator, seven persons from People’s Watch from Tamil Nadu, India, the German Ambassador and three journalists from Channel 4 including Jonathan Miller, a secretary from the British High Commission, a British politician and a human rights representative, a British religious affairs officer, three journalists and the political affairs representative from the Canadian High Commission had visited the site.
However, it is uncertain if all these visitors to the Mannar mass grave site had been given approval by the authorities to inspect the site.
Further, the military had deployed members of the bomb disposal squad at the site, but on a request made to the courts by the Mannar Police Chief Inspector, an order was issued on December 11, 2018, to the 54 Division that it was not required to deploy the Army to the excavation site. However, while the military was deployed at the site, they had systematically monitored those who had visited the site, but in accordance with court directive, the military personnel were removed from the Mannar mass grave site. Currently, the STF and police personnel have been deployed at the site replacing the military.
While so far no concrete evidence has been found to make any assertion regarding the skeletons found at this mass grave site, many still point their fingers at the military. However, according to military sources, no Army camps had been located at this site. However, during the IPKF occupation, it is said that there had been a camp located there.
According to the observations of Prof. Raj Somadeva of the Kelaniya University, who is conducting the excavations at the Mannar mass grave site, it has been used as a cemetery at some point in the past. However, no definite verdict could be given without the report of the carbon dating which has now been done by the laboratory Beta Analytic, in Miami, Florida, USA.
While some of the skeletal remains have been deposited in a systematic manner, there are others that have been erratically placed. He noted that no signs of gunshot injuries or any other signs to suggest that these people had been shot or massacred have been found yet. However, without proper investigation, which could take years, no conclusive decision could be made. Among the skeletons are those of women and children as well.
Speaking to the Daily News, Office of Missing Persons (OMP)Chairman Saliya Pieris, PC, yesterday said the OMP had no involvement with any team collecting saliva or blood samples and he was not aware of such collection. “Moreover, it is too premature to go to that extent as there should be tests done on the bone samples in order to compare them with the DNA samples obtained, but so far no such tests have been done. However, our office has no involvement in such tests,” he said.
Pieris noted that he would be meeting with the Magistrate yesterday evening, but until the time this publication went to press the meeting had not taken place. Therefore, he said until the meeting was held he was unable to comment on the latest developments of the Mannar mass grave excavations.
Meanwhile, when contacted, a spokesman of the Defence Secretary’s office said they were not aware of any foreign team collecting DNA samples nor had they given approval to any foreign or local team to conduct such tests.
However, according to reliable sources, intelligence units had been alerted to the presence of such a team from Guatemala having collected DNA samples from the families of the missing persons and having investigated the matter, had issued a report regarding their investigation to higher authorities.
With the UN Human Rights Council sessions coming up in March, the focus on the Mannar grave site has increased. However, there should be a proper mechanism in place to carry out the monitoring of the excavations at the Mannar mass grave site, while certain parties with vested interests should not be allowed to bring further disrepute to the country prior to the completion of the investigations. (Daily News)