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Friday, March 5, 1999 Published at 18:48 GMT

World: South Asia

Mass grave probe begins

The fighting has cost many lives on both sides

By Sri Lanka Correspondent Susannah Price

A team of criminal investigators and forensic experts has visited Sri Lanka's northern Jaffna Peninsula to examine the site of an alleged mass grave.

This is the first formal visit by the investigators who measured various areas of the site and took soil samples.

Last July a soldier convicted of murdering a teenager in Jaffna claimed that up to 400 bodies of local civilians killed by security forces were buried at the site.

The alleged mass grave is located on a waterlogged stretch of wasteland a few kilometres from Jaffna Town.

Armed soldiers have been guarding the area ever since the allegations came to light eight months ago during a court case.

There has been widespread criticism about the length of time it has taken for the investigation to begin, which the government has blamed on the monsoon rains and the security situation.

The team which visited the site included a professor of forensic medicine, a geology expert, the head of the criminal investigations department and the local magistrate.

More than 600 'missing'

After the area was checked by the army for landmines, the scientists took measurements and soil samples which, they said, would show if the area had been tampered with recently.

Human rights groups say that more than 600 people are still missing after being detained by security forces on the Jaffna Peninsula during the past three years.

There were emotional scenes outside Jaffna's magistrate's court during a hearing before the visit as relatives of those who had disappeared called for the grave to be exhumed as soon as possible.

The magistrate has asked for the reports to be submitted in three weeks' time and is then expected to set a date for an initial exhumation.

The International human rights group, Amnesty International, has said it will send observers as soon as any full exhumation of the site begins.

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