News

Complete radiocarbon dating report this week

By Skandha Gunasekara

The final hard-copy report of the radiocarbon analysis of the bone fragments sent to the United States of America (USA) for testing will be couriered to Sri Lanka by mid this week, The Sunday Morning learnt.

Chief Investigative Officer and Chief Judicial Medical Officer Dr. Saminda Rajapaksha told The Sunday Morning that the couriering of the package would be handled by the Office of Missing Persons as they had taken the responsibility to pay all couriering costs.

Member of the Office of Missing Persons, Mirak Raheem, speaking to The Sunday Morning said that the courier service had been arranged on Thursday. “We expect the Mannar Magistrate’s Court to receive the hard copy of the final report within the next five to seven days.”
A total of six samples were sent to Beta Analytics in Florida, USA, one of the only radiocarbon dating laboratories in the world, to carry out tests to ascertain the origin and timeline of how old the bones are.

The reports of five of the samples were received by the Mannar Magistrate’s Court on 20 February but the report of the sixth and final bone sample was delayed.

The hard-copy report would also include the report of the sixth bone sample.

Mannar Magistrate T. Swarnarajah, two weeks ago, issued a gag order on the contents of the reports that were received by the Court as well as Dr. Rajapaksa.

However, the Office of Missing Persons in a statement on 22 February said that they were informed that once the report for all six samples were submitted to the Mannar Magistrate Court’s official record, the contents of the report would then be legally binding.

Dr. Rajapaksha said that along with the hard copy of the report, the remaining bone fragments would also be returned.

Dr. Rajapaksha went on to inform The Sunday Morning that excavation of the Mannar mass grave site was still ongoing and that on Wednesday (27), had entered its 150th day.

He said that there were still more bones being discovered.

“We have uncovered several more skeletal remains. However, we have not numbered them so we have not added them to the total count as of yet,” he said, adding that he hoped to add the newly-found bones to the uncovered total this coming week.

Thus far, a total of 323 individual skeletal remains have been found, of which 315 have been removed from the site.
In addition, 28 skeletal remains of children were among those that were removed.

Meanwhile, families of missing persons staged a demonstration in Mannar on Thursday (28) demanding closure for their missing loved ones.
With more information being uncovered, the protestors demanded further investigations into the mass graves.

They also pointed out that with the uncovering of the Mannar mass grave, it was likely that more such graves could be hidden in the country, where their missing loved ones could be buried as well.

Discovery and excavation

The Mannar mass grave was found on 25 March, 2018, when skeletal remains were unearthed during the construction of a new Sathosa building, after construction workers stumbled onto the remains when operating heavy machinery.

The courts then ordered a proper investigation into the site.

Investigations commenced in May, 2018 when the Mannar Police and the Scene of Crime Officer of Vavuniya Police cordoned off the site from the public.

Consultant Judicial Medical Officer Dr. W.R.A.S. Rajapaksa was called in and after prolonged analysis, determined that the skeletal remains and bone fragments were human remains.

Mannar Magistrate A.G. Alexrajah ordered the site to be secured in order to commence official excavation which started on 28 May.
Chief Forensic Archeologist from the University of Kelaniya Prof. Raj Somadeva was summoned for his expert assistance and began work on the site on 29 May.

With the current number of bodies found exceeding 300, the grave is currently the largest mass grave in Sri Lanka.

The fact that the site also contains the remains of several children and body parts bound with metal has resulted in speculations that this was a community that was killed and buried, and that they may have been subject to torture as well.

Prof. Somadeva, speaking to The Sunday Morning on an earlier occasion, said that the graves were chaotic in their distribution of bodies and that the site was divided into two separate segments; the first being a formal burial and the second appearing more like an informal deposit of remains.

No sources have yet been able to confirm who conducted the killings, with parties on both sides denying and defusing blame on the other.
Several families with disappeared relatives had claimed that their sons may have been buried in those graves.

The custody of the remains has been transferred to the local courts in Mannar, with all the evidence said to be within a chamber in the Mannar Court Complex.

Mannar, including the site of the grave, came back under military control approximately 10 years ago. The Sri Lankan Government continues to deny any involvement with disappearances and mass graves.