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Sri Lanka To Excavate Mass Grave

February 11, 1999

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (AP) _ Sri Lanka’s government announced today it would begin excavating the site where 300 Tamil civilians believed killed by the military may be buried, and invited human rights groups and journalists to witness it.

The excavation, set for March 5, will be done by a team of scientists from two local universities and government forensics experts under the supervision of a local magistrate.

``With a view to be transparent on the allegations against the armed forces, the government will permit local and foreign non-governmental organizations to engage the services of independent forensic experts to observe the exhumation,″ the foreign ministry said.

Tamils say they face discrimination by the majority Sinhalese, who control the government and military. More than 57,000 people have died in the insurrection since 1983 in this country off India’s southern coast.

A site near the town of Chemmani in the Jaffna Peninsula is believed to contain the bodies of about half the 600 Tamils who disappeared from military custody after government troops captured the area in early 1996.

Jaffna was a stronghold of Tamil Tiger guerrillas fighting for a separate homeland for minority Tamils.

A soldier convicted in July of the rape and murder of a family of Tamils told judges he had helped bury bodies near Chemmani, about 185 miles north of the capital Colombo.

The government first ordered an inquiry into the allegations of mass graves in July. The international human rights group Amnesty International has accused the government of stalling the investigation.

But the government says the work was delayed because of floods, difficulties finding specialist investigators and a court dispute over allowing relatives of the missing people to witness the digging.

That question is a matter for a local judge, not the government. Relatives are not being allowed at the site now, but are likely to come as close to the site as possible and stand behind police lines when the excavation begins.

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