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Wednesday, June 23, 1999 Published at 11:55 GMT 12:55 UK

World: South Asia

Amnesty wants Sri Lanka probe widened

Authorities allowed international monitoring for the first time

The human rights group Amnesty International has called on the Sri Lankan authorities to widen a probe into the suspected mass killings of civilians in the country's civil war.

Forensic investigators have already found two skeletons near the northern city of Jaffna, after the exhumation began last week of an alleged burial site for up to 400 Tamil civilians seized by the army.

[ image: Amnesty wants Tamil Tiger killings to be probed]
Amnesty wants Tamil Tiger killings to be probed
In a statement, Amnesty described the excavation as "an important first step", but urged the investigation to be widened to cover suspected victims of killings by Tamil Tiger guerrillas.

The group says scores of people went missing while in the custody of the rebels in the early 1990s.

It also says the authorities should investigate suspected burial sites in the south of the country for people who went missing during a government crackdown on left-wing Sinhalese militants.

International experts monitoring last week's exhumation have also called for greater participation of foreign forensic specialists in the investigation.

More than 60,000 people are believed to have been killed by government forces and vigilante groups between 1988 and 1990.

Skeletons found

The authorities were led to the site at Chemmani near Jaffna 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 told a court last year that hundreds of Tamil civilians were buried in Chemmani by the Sri Lankan army after the takeover of Jaffna.

The bodies found on Thursday were buried 1.5 metres down in the salty marshland.

One of the skeletons found on Thursday was bound and blindfolded and there were scraps of material still attached to both bodies.

They were identified as belonging to motor mechanics working in the area.

Hundreds missing

[ image: Government forces are blamed for disappearances]
Government forces are blamed for disappearances
The area was cleared of overgrown bushes and then excavated by local forensic scientists, after Nerajapakse identified 10 sites where he was ordered to help bury 300 bodies.

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

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

After the security forces captured the Jaffna peninsula from the Tigers in 1995-96, they detained large number of local Tamils on suspicion of being involved with the rebels.

More than 600 of those who were held in military custody are still missing and observers say it is unlikely that they are still alive.

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