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Over 100 Skeletons Unearthed In Matale

By Raisa Wickrematunge

In Matale, the body count grows ever higher as more and more skeletons emerge out of the red earth near the Matale hospital, with over a hundred recovered, according to a judicial medical officer.
But at present, how this mass gravesite came to be is still a mystery.
It all started when in November last year workers began digging near the hospital in order to lay a new biogas unit. They received a grisly surprise when they uncovered what appeared to be pieces of a human skull, a police report said.
Having reported the find, further excavation found not just one, but 10 skulls. The site was handed over to the Matale police, who, on the instructions of Matale Magistrate Chathurika de Silva, began an investigation, together with Consultant Judicial Medical Officer of the nearby Matale Hospital, Ajith Jayasena. The CID too began investigations on December 2.
As of Friday (25) the official police report said that 92 skeletons, complete with skulls, and 13 shards of bone were recovered.
However, Jayasena on speaking to The Sunday Leader said that the excavation was continuing, and more skeletons were being uncovered. Although 92 had been collected in front of the Magistrate, the recovered skeletons already numbered more than 100.
The number of people buried could well have been higher- this was the third biogas unit the workers had been intending to place on the site. As Jayasena said, it was entirely possible that even more buried remains were lost when the earlier construction was taking place in 2010.
Meanwhile, the excavating continued. “It is only after we recover the skeletons that we can examine them closely and give the final report to court,” Jayasena said.
Jayasena said that what had been discovered when the skeletons were unearthed could not yet be divulged, as he was working according to a court order.
He added that it was too soon to conclusively date the bones uncovered. The reason for this, Jayasena said, was that the rate of bone decay tended to vary from place to place and country to country. Other factors could change the rate of bone decay, from the manner in which the skeletons were buried to the chemical composition of the soil. As a result, this method of dating the skeletons, based purely on how badly the bones had decayed, was not accurate, Jayasena said.
On the other hand, the best way to date the bones would be to take a sample and send it to a foreign country for analysis. “I know we don’t have such facilities in Sri Lanka,” Jayasena explained, adding that the best course of action was to send the bone samples overseas for carbon dating.
“I can’t say that it’s right or wrong that the bones uncovered date to 1971 or some other time. As a forensic expert, until the investigation report is released, it is not possible to give evidence,” Jayasena said, adding that it was up to the police to investigate from their end as well.
However, Jayasena added that the opinion of the Archaeological Department had been sought to see if the bones were more than 100 years old, in which case it would fall under their purview. The Director of Excavation, Nimal Perera had come to the site to examine the remains and was to provide a certificate stating that the remains had no archaeological value, Jayasena said.
He added that it was normal procedure to treat mass graves such as this one as crime scenes. The Matale gravesite was also being considered a crime scene because it was not a seriously established cemetery, nor had hospital records shown that the Matale hospital had buried remains on the site. However, proper investigations still had to be done to ascertain whether the site was, in fact, a scene of crime or not. “This process will take time… that is the nature of investigation,” Jayasena said.
He added that the bones recovered had been buried in a haphazard fashion, such that even a layperson could tell that there was no order to the burials.
Intense Speculation
Jayasena’s comments come after intense speculation as to where the remains could have come from. When The Sunday Leader visited Matale, it was found that the residents believed various alternative theories. One, an 80 year old hospital attendant called Loku Banda Herath, said he recalled that there had been a smallpox outbreak in the area, so that his own father, also a hospital attendant, had been unable to return home for fear of spreading the disease. When he returned home, Herath learned that those who had succumbed to the disease were buried in a mass grave not far from the hospital grounds. This theory was refuted by Jayasena, who said, “They have been saying that the skeletons are over 40-years-old, and belong to patients who had small pox. It is a lie.” He further said the residents were saying these things to obstruct the investigation.
Others, such as U. R. Muthubanda, a JVP supporter who was connected to the 1971 insurrections, said that the bodies could not have been from that period, as there were only direct conflicts between the Government and the JVP. There have also been reports that the skeletons could date back to 1946, when, police noted, a landslide killed around five hundred people.
However, these rumours are still just that- rumours. As Jayasena revealed, authorities still have no idea how old the skeletons actually are.
One of most persistent theories is that the skeletons date back to the 1989 JVP insurrection. It is for this reason that the JVP have been calling for an independent investigation into the origin of the documents. JVP MP Vijitha Herath said he was aware that the final report had still not been handed over. “Our position is, that we want an actual impartial examination, and for the doctors and other intellectuals to release the report so that we can form an idea of what happened,” Herath said. He added that the party wanted “immediate action” on the matter.
Herath said that the party did think the remains could be of JVP activists, but added that they had no real evidence to support this belief, having not received any reports from the gravesite.
However, he added, there were mass graves full of JVP activists scattered throughout the island. Herath said that the Government (at the time, the UNP was in power) committed massacres by way of illegal gangs. “They were called the Green Tigers,” Herath said, adding that they had carried out many killings and kidnapping of JVP activists.  He alleged that such mass graves could be found in Achchuvely, Matara, Eliyakanda, Diyagama, Batalanda, Divulapitiya and the Kurunegala jungle, most of which dated back to 1989.

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