Published On:Thursday, February 7, 2013
Posted by Sri Lanka Guardian

The dead and the disappeared

The fall out of some of the harsh measures adopted was the abductions and disappearances of a large number of youngsters. Bodies of young men and women reported missing would be found floating in the rivers and reservoirs in the South.
( February 7, 2013, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) Tuesday's declaration by the JVP parliamentary group leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake about the skeletal remains found in a mass grave in the vicinity of the Matale District Hospital being that of JVP cadres who disappeared in the 1987-89 period, doesn't come as a big surprise.

Given the degree of violence experienced during that period, speculation has been rife about the identity of the remains, with many acknowledging it could well be those of JVP cadres who had simply vanished.

The mass grave, which the JVP now says could contain the remains of at least 200 torture victims, was discovered on 30 November by construction workers digging trenches for the foundation of a new bio-gas unit at the hospital. Six skeletal remains were discovered during the initial excavation, but subsequent excavations have unearthed over 140 skulls and other remains.

The JVP has said this is the largest mass grave in Sri Lanka's history. But what is more disturbing is the Party's claim that experts probing the grave had confirmed the victims had not died due to natural causes, and that the heads, arms and legs of the some of the bodies had been severed.

The revelations compel one to revisit the dark past of the late eighties and the early nineties.

The then opposition United People (UP) led by former President Chandrika Kumaratunga kicked off its campaign to topple the UNP regime using the mass grave found in the Suriyawewa region in the Sabragamuwa Province as a major propaganda tool. Reportedly Chandrika had visited the site of the mass grave during her campaign, making the issue juicy fodder for a nation that had already had enough of deaths and disappearances.

The second phase of the JVP insurrection was surmounted with a great degree of ruthlessness by the UNP on the directives of late President R. Premadasa and his Defence Minister Ranjan Wijeratne.

The fall out of some of the harsh measures adopted was the abductions and disappearances of a large number of youngsters. Bodies of young men and women reported missing would be found floating in the rivers and reservoirs in the South.

Subsequent reports revealed that the UNP regime had operated several torture camps with a prime one located in Batalanda, where several youngsters suspected to be the JVP activists were detained and interrogated in a brutal manner.

No doubt it's these incidents that have the JVP, which has now become the third political forces in the country, with parliamentary representations, urging the government to launch an impartial investigation into the skeletal remains found in the mass grave.

Sri Lanka's recent history is pockmarked with darker periods with the separatist war of the LTTE bloodying the North and East, and the escalation of the JVP insurgency in the South. Killings and abductions remained a constant throughout the country.

Allegations against the security forces have also been a constant in the past, with the most memorable, pre post-war accusations being the disappearance of hundreds of youngsters following 'Operation Rivirasa' which saw the Army take control of the Jaffna Peninsula in 1995 and the subsequent identification of the Chemmani cemetery area as a possible mass grave.

A team of forensic experts led by late Prof. Chandrasiri Niriella visited the site during Chandrika's presidency to probe into the alleged mass grave allegations. Unfortunately, the investigations had to be called off midway due to the escalation of clashes between the LTTE and the Security Forces.

Even now the' Mothers' Front' in the North actively stages frequent demonstrations to keep the issue of the missing youth alive, while similar demonstrations are staged in Colombo at a similar frequency for the same reason.

In such a backdrop and with another UNHRC sessions in Geneva just around the corner, the JVP's declaration that the Matale mass grave issue and demands for impartial investigations are not something that can be quietly shoved under the carpet.

Dissanayake's comments on the mass grave, while being a reminder of the atrocities committed in the past, also brings to light the need for closure, especially for the families wondering about the fate of their loved ones.

- Ceylon Today Editorial

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