02/26/2014, 00.00
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Mannar Bishop wants the government to tell the truth on mass graves

by Melani Manel Perera
The remains of 80 people, including women and children, were found in the district. Bishop Joseph, who celebrated a memorial Mass, said, "We want to know what happened. We want answers. We do not need food".

Colombo (AsiaNews) - Mgr. Rayappu Joseph, bishop of Mannar, celebrated a special Mass for the repose of the souls of 80 strangers, whose bodies were recently found in a mass grave near Thirukketheeswaram temple, in the Northern Province.

"We want to know what happened to these people," said the bishop in his homily. "We want answers. We do not need food, but the truth. The government cannot force death certificates on the families of people who disappeared into thin air ".

Many diocesan priests and nuns as well as local residents attended the liturgy. For years, many locals have not had any news about their loved ones and hope to find an answer with the discovery of this mass grave.

For almost 30 years, northern Sri Lanka was the scene of a bloody civil war. Tamil Tiger rebels, who waged a war against the armed forces, sought to create a separate state in the mostly Tamil region. Tamils are Sri Lanka's second-largest ethno-linguistic group.

From 1990 to 2009 (a period when the conflict reached its apex), many people went missing, in particular men and fathers. Even after the war, they were not heard from again. Many families continue to call on the authorities to shed light on the fate of their loved ones.

The mass grave was discovered in December of last year, when 36 skeletons were found. When research resumed, many more bodies were found.

 "This is the first mass grave discovered in the area since the army defeated the Tamil rebels," said Dr Dhananjaya Waidyaratne, the coroner investigating the case.

"For now, we found the skeletons of 80 people. Now we will carry out more tests to determine how and when they died. Among the remains found, there are also those of women and children."

The government immediately tried to dismiss concerns that the military might have been involved, noting that the area of Mannar has long been a Tamil Tiger stronghold.

However, Sri Lanka's military retook the area in 2008, and it was during the last year of the war that both sides carried out their worst atrocities against civilians.

"We need information on missing people," Mgr Joseph said in his homily. "Transparent investigations should be conducted because we want to know what happened to these people. We must raise our voices for those who vanished into thin air. We have a right to fight for justice. Let us pray for everyone, for those who died during the war and for those who are missing. "

Last year, some workers discovered another mass grave in the district of Matale (Central Province), hundreds of miles from the "hot" zones of conflict.

They were the skeletal remains of at least 155 people, killed during an antigovernment uprising that occurred between 1987 and 1990, unrelated to the Tamil separatist conflict.

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