278 skeletons found at Sri Lanka mass grave

A human skull in a mass grave. (Kurdish Mass Graves Directorate via AP, File)
A human skull in a mass grave. (Kurdish Mass Graves Directorate via AP, File)

Some 278 skeletons have been found at one of the biggest mass graves uncovered in Sri Lanka since the end of the country's civil war almost a decade ago, a top investigator said on Friday.

Dozens of women and children as well as men were buried at the site in Mannar where Tamil guerrillas fought security forces during the conflict, said Samindra Rajapakshe, senior judicial medical officer in the northern city.

The mass grave was uncovered in March by construction workers preparing to build a cooperative store.

"After 118 working days we have unearthed 278 skeletons which included the remains of men, women and children," said Rajapakshe.

More than 20 of the remains were of children.

Investigations continue

He added that further forensics examinations would be needed to establish causes of death, but said that some of the victims appeared to have been bound.

"Our task has been to gather evidence to determine the cause of death, time since death, contributing circumstances, and the specific identity of the individuals in this site," said Rajapakshe.

Mannar was a key battleground in Sri Lanka's four decade-long separatist conflict in which the Tamil Tigers waged a bloody war against government troops. The war ended in 2009 after a major military offensive.

A government appointed panel said in 2013 that about 19 000 people were missing since the conflict, including 5 000 troops.

The Office on Missing Persons (OMP) which started work this year on accounting for the missing and helping their families will pay for carbon dating on samples from the mass grave, OMP chairman Saliya Peiris said.

Six bone samples selected over the past week are to be sent abroad for radio carbon dating analysis to establish the approximate time of death of the victims.

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