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Sri Lanka Mass Grave Battled Over

February 13, 1999

JAFFNA, Sri Lanka (AP) _ A Sri Lankan judge has accused the government of interfering with plans to dig up a mass grave containing the bodies of 300 people allegedly killed by the military, officials and lawyers said today.

Magistrate S.A.E. Ehanathan has taken exception to a Foreign Ministry statement that set March 5 as the excavation date, saying he would review the situation on that day, court officials said on condition of anonymity.

The judge told the Judicial Service Commission, which oversees judicial work, that he had not set a date for the excavation and considered the Foreign Ministry’s statement an interference.

The Foreign Ministry on Wednesday invited human rights groups and journalists to witness the excavation by scientists from two local universities and government forensics experts under the supervision of a local magistrate.

It was not immediately known why the Foreign Ministry made the statement without consulting the judge.

The site near the outskirts of Jaffna is believed to contain the bodies of about half the 600 Tamils who disappeared from military custody after government troops captured the peninsula in early 1996.

Jaffna, a Tamil-majority area, was a stronghold of guerrillas fighting for a homeland for the minority Tamils.

A soldier convicted last year of rape and murder told judges he had helped bury bodies near Jaffna, about 185 miles north of the capital, Colombo.

The government first ordered an inquiry into the mass graves allegations in July. But work was delayed, the government says, because of floods and difficulties finding special investigators.

The rebels accuse the majority Sinhalese of discriminating against the minority Tamils, a charge the government denies. Over 57,000 people have died in the insurrection since 1983.

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