Tamil Tiger fighters killed in Sri Lanka war buried ‘chaotically’ in secret mass grave

By Kithsiri Wijesinghe

Latest findings from a secret burial site in Sri Lanka reveal that bodies of male and female Tamil Tiger combatants who died in war with state security forces have neither been handed over to the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) for return nor given a decent burial.

An expert report submitted to Mullaitivu court following excavations at the Kokkuthoduvai mass grave in the war torn northern Vanni region concludes, “The trench excavated is a clandestine burial. The deceased lying in the burial trench are militants of the organization named the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Elem (LTTE)”.

The report states that the bodies have been disposed of in a ‘chaotic’ manner.

“Based on the irregular spacing and the chaotic overlapping of the skeletons suggest that this inhumation was a clandestine burial.”

JDS is in possession of a copy of the interim report to court by Senior Professor in Archeology, Raj Somadeva.

'Shot to death'

Professor Somadeva, the lead archaeologist who conducted forensic investigations believes that's the actual causes of deaths can be accurately determined only through further examinations carried out by a competent forensic pathologist.

Speaking to JDS, Somadeva said that his investigation to date the mass grave was carried out adhering to strict scientific procedures.

"I carried out the investigation at the request of the court. As a part of the process, we examined various items found at the site including skeletal remains, fabric pieces, badges and even cyanide capsules. The dating was done accordingly", he told JDS.

"Not one, but several examinstaions, made it clear to us that most of the bodies bear one or multiple gunshot wounds. Therefore, I can state without the slightest doubt that the victims died by shooting before being buried en mass" he added.

'Irregular pattern'

The report observes, “The postures and the scattering of individual skeletons in the trench show an irregular pattern. It suggests that the person or group of persons responsible was hardly follow any ritualistic act during the burial process”.

And one in particular: “Unnecessary curiosity and the unplanned engagement in digging by the group who is responsible for handling this burial have impinged on the rights of the victim to obtain a respectable salute from his/ her living relatives.”

Pipelayers digging a trench by the Mullaitivu-Kokkilai highway stumbled upon the site last June.

Teams led by Prof. Somadeva and Judicial Medical Officer (JMO) Dr Kanagasabapathy Vasudeva had carried out excavations for 21 days in two phases between 5 September and 29 November 2023.

Tamil fighters

Preliminary investigations have been conducted on forty skeletons of women and men. Some were lying face down and some on their back. They were apparently killed in war.

“Before the victims lost their lives, they had been confronted with a firearm confrontation,” says the 35 page report.

The remains date back to a period 3 decades ago when Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunge was president.

“The date of the burial event took place does not go beyond the year 1994 and does not exceed the year 1996. Therefore as suggested by the artifacts excavated, it can be concluded that this incident took place on a date held somewhere between 1994 and 1996.”

During the time period referred in the report, Kokkuthoduvai remained under the control of 6th 'Welioya' Brigade of the Sri Lanka army headed by late Brigadier Janaka Perera before he was posted to Jaffna to lead Reserve Strike Force (53 Division). The 4th Battalion of the Gemunu Watch was stationed at the Kokkuthoduvai camp under the command of Lt.Col. Rohitha Wickrematilaka, who functioned as the battalion commander from February 1995 to November 1996.

A sub-surface electromagnetic survey had shown that the Kokkuthoduvai mass grave extends beyond the area excavated so far.

The team of experts expect to submit a comprehensive report once the resumed exhumations are complete.

Nevertheless, further investigations are hampered due to lack of funds.

The Office on Missing Persons (OMP) that committed to channel funds from the president’s office renewed their pledge before the Mullaitivu magistrate, according to Vallipuram Santhirapiragasam Niranjan, attorney at law representing Tamil relatives of the disappeared.



Journalists for Democracy in Sri Lanka

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