By Madhawa Kulasuriya – Vavuniya
Five human skeletal remains, and what have been identified as splintered human teeth, were retrieved from an abandoned well in Thirukedeeshwaran, Mannar, last Wednesday. The well lies close to the Thirukedeeshwaran mass grave discovered in 2013.
This follows the discovery of 88 skeletal remains in December 2013 in what was tagged the Mannar Mass Graves Discovery.
Acting under orders from Mannar Magistrate A. G. Alexraja, given in response to a petition filed in the Mannar Magistrate’s Court, Police and personnel from the Archaeological Department began excavating the dried up bed of the well and hit on the remains after three days of digging. But this led to opening up of old springs which resulted in the well filling up with water again, bringing the excavation to a halt.
The Magistrate ordered the excavation to be suspended until 5 September.
The skeletal remains which were recovered from the Mannar, Thirukedeeshwaran mass grave and the well in the vicinity have been placed in the custody of the Anuradhapura Hospital. Preliminary probes have not established how long ago the bodies had been dumped in the mass grave and in the well.
The original mass grave was accidentally discovered when Municipal labourers were digging a stretch of land near the Shivam Kovil in Thirukedeeshwaran to lay pipelines for a new water project in Mannar in December 2013.
Mannar Police arrived on the site and further excavation revealed more skeletal remains. Mannar Police then informed the Mannar Magistrate’s Court about the discovery.
This happened when Magistrate Anandi Kanagaratnam was the Mannar Magistrate at that time.
Personnel from the Criminal Investigation Department, Archaeological Department, officials of the Government Analyst’s Department, Department of Geology of the Peradeniya University, and soil geologists were associated in the excavation and recovery of the remains.
In January 2014, Tamil National Alliance Member of Parliament Sivasakthi Anandan commenting on the discovery of skeletal remains called for an international investigation into the find with international observers involved in the process.
Sivasakthi Anandan also said that a report should be prepared with the support of international observers in connection with the mass grave in Mannar and the report should be submitted to the UN Human Rights Sessions in Geneva.
She said that since investigations carried out locally into the finds cannot be depended on , it is necessary to conduct an international investigation into the doscoveries.
Bishop of Mannar Rayappu Joseph also said such an international involvement in the investigation is a must.
Inspections of the mass grave in Mannar were carried out, on orders issued by the Mannar Magistrate’s Court, by Dr. Dhananjaya Waidyaratne who served as the Senior Judicial Medical Officer (JMO) of the Anuradhapura Hospital at that time.
Investigations were carried out for a period of about two years into the mass grave, from December of 2013, and the JMO Dr. Dhananjaya Waidyaratne said that 88 human skeletal remains were recovered in that mass grave.
Dr. Waidyaratne also said that on Court orders the skeletal remains recovered from the mass grave were packed in special packing materials and handed over to the Anuradhapura Hospital pending further investigations.
The former JMO of the Anuradhapura Hospital said that while he was carrying out investigations into the skeletal remains, he had been transferred to the Matale Hospital and as a result he had to terminate investigations into the 88 skeletal remains.
Dr. Waidyaratne added that skeletal remains of persons belonging to various age groups were recovered from the mass grave.
On 11 December 2015, Mannar Magistrate A. G. Alexraja ordered that the human skeletal remains recovered from the mass grave should be referred to a foreign investigation for in-depth forensic investigations.
Senior Attorney-at-Law V. S. Niranjan of the Mannar Court said that according to the Court order the skeletal remains from the mass grave should have been sent to countries such as Argentina and Yugoslavia for further investigations.
But Senior JMO Dr. Waidyaratne had said there was no legal compulsion to send those remains for analysis to a foreign country and that further investigations can be carried out into the skeletal remains using facilities available in laboratories in this country.
Dr. Waidyaratne also said that local laboratory investigations could establish the age of the remains, the gender of the victims and factors which caused death.
Subsequent to the investigations in 2015, the Mannar Community Organization said that since there was a closed up well in the vicinity of the mass grave, there was the possibility of more skeletal remains to be unearthed.
A plaint filed at the Mannar Magistrate’s Court by the Mannar Community Organization pleading that since there could be more skeletal remains in the well situated close to the Thirukedeeshwaran mass grave, the well and the surrounding areas should be excavated to ensure the truth.