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Wednesday, June 16, 1999 Published at 17:36 GMT 18:36 UK

World: South Asia

Remains found in Sri Lanka 'mass grave'

The security forces detained large numbers of Tamils in 1996

Sri Lankan authorities have found the remains of a body after the exhumation of an alleged mass grave on the North Jaffna peninsula.

Reports say government officials discovered what they believe to be part of a man's knee, after three hours of excavation at Chemmani village.

Authorities were led to the site by a former soldier, Somaratne Nerajapakse, who was sentenced to death for the rape and murder of a Tamil teenager in 1996.

The ex-soldier had told a court last year that hundreds of Tamil civilians were buried in Chemmani by the Sri Lankan army, after the takeover of Jaffna.

Our Colombo correspondent, Susannah Price, visited the site and said the area was cleared of overgrown bushes and then excavated by local forensic scientists.

Outside observers

The proceedings were watched by four international observers, including two from human rights body Amnesty International.

"We have taken one step in the direction of truth, accountability and redress for the victims," Amnesty's Indgrid Massage told Reuters.

The state counsel for the attorney-general's department, Josante Kodagoda, said this was the first phase and future investigations would depend on the findings.

The remains will be taken for analysis while more information is gathered about how many bodies might be there.

Uncertainty could remain

After the security forces captured the Jaffna peninsula from the Tigers in 1996, they detained large number of local Tamils on suspicion of being involved with the rebels.

Hundreds of those taken were never seen again and it seems unlikely that they are still alive.

The relatives of the disappeared will be allowed to view whatever is dug up, but even if human remains are found, there are no guarantees that the expertise and resources will be available to identify them all.

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