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Discovery of 140 Skeletal Remains in the Matale Mass Graves: Is Gotabhaya Rajapaksa Implicated in the Incident?

Speculation is rife in Sri Lanka and among Sri Lankans abroad of the possibility of Defence and Urban Development Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa being implicated in the incident concerning the discovery of skeletal remains in mass graves in the Hill town of Matale.

Discussions are on whether the Presidential sibling regarded as the second most powerful person in Sri Lanka could have been allegedly involved in the incidents relating to the 140 skeletal remains discovered in Matale.

Although nothing has been concretely confirmed It is being suspected that the skeletons in the mass graves are those of Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) cadres or those suspected of being JVP killed during the JVP insurgency of 1988 89.

It has also been alleged that according to examinations of the skeletons there are indications that some of the victims had been torture and killed.

The JVP at a recent press conference accused the United National Party(UNP)Govt of the past and its killer squads of being responsible for the Matale skeletons.

According to media reports the JVP has charged that those responsible for the Matale killings during 1987-89 period, directly or indirectly, were now holding high ranking posts in President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s government.

The former rebels demanded the government reveal details of all senior police officers and Area Commanders of the Army, who served in Matale in the 1988-1989 period.

pic courtesy of: lankatruth.com
Addressing a media conference at the party head office, in Pelawatte, JVP parliamentary group leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake said that they could not expect from the government justice for the victims buried in the Matale mass grave, which contained 140 skulls as well as skeletal remains.

“Experts involved in the excavation believe there are remains of at least 200 people” MP Dissanayake said, adding that it was the largest mass grave in Sri Lanka’s history and it belonged to 1987-89 period, according to experts.

The experts engaged in probing the Matale mass grave had now confirmed that the victims had been that victims were killed after being tortured, Dissanayake said.

According to them the deaths were not due to natural causes. The heads of some bodies had been severed, he said, adding that hands and legs had also been severed.

“It is clearly evident that body parts were severed,” Dissanayake said.

Some people try to dismiss the find claiming that the remains belong to the people who died in an epidemic. If so their deaths should have been recorded in courts and hospitals before burial, Dissanayake said.

The JVP MP said that the then UNP government sponsored death squads were responsible for killing 60,000 JVP members after torturing them.

The then government ran torture chambers countrywide and a massive one at Matale as well as at Koskele in Kurunegala, Eliyakanda in Matara, Suriyakanda in Embilipitiya and Batalanda in Kelaniya, he said.

The MP accused most of the then ministers of having run mini torture chambers in their residences in the Galle, Matara, Puttalam and Gampaha districts during the 1987-89 period.

Dissanayake said that although the then UNP government killed lawyer Wijedasa Liyanarachchi, he had been betrayed to the authorities by a person who was now a top man in the present government. “Not only that, the person who led then UNP government’s killing squad, called PRRA between 1987 and 1989, is now a minister in the Rajapaksa government.”

“That is the reason why we say that those responsible for the 1987 – 89 killings, directly or indirectly, are now with the Rajapaksa government,” Dissanayake said.

MP Dissanayake said that people in the Wilgamuwa and Rattota areas were ready to give evidence regarding torture chambers in the Matale area.

The JVP also demanded a comprehensive probe into the Matale mass grave and that those responsible for the mass killings be brought to justice, even at this late stage.

Although media reports avoided any direct or indirect reference to the alleged involvement of Gotabhaya Rajapaksa and focused on some of those responsible being part of the Government now the JVP demand that the Govt reveal the names of all the senior Police and Army officers serving in Matale during 1987-89 indirectly points the accusing finger at those senior officials.

Gotabhata Rajapaksa also falls under this category.

Gotabhaya Rajapaksa who retired from the Army holding the rank of Colonel served in the Gajaba Regiment.Gota as he is generally known was appointed as Commandig officer of the 1st Gajaba Battalion on May 1st 1989 and posted to Matale district as the District Coordinating Officer. He served in Matale until the end of 1989 and went abroad to the USA in January 1990 on three months leave.

Among some of the Junior officers who served under Gotabhaya Rajapaksa in Matale were Shavendra Silva, Jagath Dias and Sumedha Perera.They are all of Major-General rank now.

Initially several UNP politicians of Matale protested to the then National Security Minister that Gotabhaya should not be posted in Matale as he was the brother of Mahinda Rajapaksa then a Parliamentarian from the Sri Lanka Freedom Party(SLFP)

Wijeratne however overruled these protests and assigned Gotabhaya the task of wiping out the JVP insurgency in Matale district. Ranjan Wijertne was impressed by Gotabhaya Rajapaksa’s dedication and efficiency in carrying out the duties entrusted to him.

With the Matala mass graves issue assuming great political significance the question of whether Gotabhaya Rajapaksa could be possibly implicated has been gaining ground.

According to an article in “The Sunday Leader”by Raisa Wickrematunge the discovery of skeletal remains remains a “mystery”still. Here are a few excerpts –

“But at present, how this mass gravesite came to be is still a mystery.

It all started when in November last year workers began digging near the hospital in order to lay a new biogas unit. They received a grisly surprise when they uncovered what appeared to be pieces of a human skull, a police report said.

Having reported the find, further excavation found not just one, but 10 skulls. The site was handed over to the Matale police, who, on the instructions of Matale Magistrate Chathurika de Silva, began an investigation, together with Consultant Judicial Medical Officer of the nearby Matale Hospital, Ajith Jayasena. The CID too began investigations on December 2.

As of Friday (25) the official police report said that 92 skeletons, complete with skulls, and 13 shards of bone were recovered.

However, Jayasena on speaking to The Sunday Leader said that the excavation was continuing, and more skeletons were being uncovered. Although 92 had been collected in front of the Magistrate, the recovered skeletons already numbered more than 100.

The number of people buried could well have been higher- this was the third biogas unit the workers had been intending to place on the site. As Jayasena said, it was entirely possible that even more buried remains were lost when the earlier construction was taking place in 2010.

Meanwhile, the excavating continued. “It is only after we recover the skeletons that we can examine them closely and give the final report to court,” Jayasena said.

Jayasena said that what had been discovered when the skeletons were unearthed could not yet be divulged, as he was working according to a court order.

One of most persistent theories is that the skeletons date back to the 1989 JVP insurrection. It is for this reason that the JVP have been calling for an independent investigation into the origin of the documents. JVP MP Vijitha Herath said he was aware that the final report had still not been handed over. “Our position is, that we want an actual impartial examination, and for the doctors and other intellectuals to release the report so that we can form an idea of what happened,” Herath said. He added that the party wanted “immediate action” on the matter.

Herath said that the party did think the remains could be of JVP activists, but added that they had no real evidence to support this belief, having not received any reports from the gravesite.

However, he added, there were mass graves full of JVP activists scattered throughout the island. Herath said that the Government (at the time, the UNP was in power) committed massacres by way of illegal gangs. “They were called the Green Tigers,” Herath said, adding that they had carried out many killings and kidnapping of JVP activists. He alleged that such mass graves could be found in Achchuvely, Matara, Eliyakanda, Diyagama, Batalanda, Divulapitiya and the Kurunegala jungle, most of which dated back to 1989

Meanwhile “The Island”newspaper of February 7th 2013 in an Editorial has said that the Govt has no choice other than to conduct a full probe if experts confirm that the skeletons are those of youths killed in the JVP uprisings of 1971 or 1989.

The Editorial is reproduced in full here

Beyond the grave

“A big question mark hangs over the Matale mass grave. Investigations are still on and an expert report is expected shortly. A senior analyst is of the view that the skeletal remains found there could be those of a group of persons killed during the second JVP uprising (1987-89). The JVP has, after weeks of prevarication, claimed that the grave contains remains of its activists tortured and killed in the late 1980s.

One should wait until scientific tests on the human remains are completed and results made known, without rushing to conclusions, but the JVP’s claim has taken us back in time to its second abortive insurrection which plunged the country into a bloodbath. It achieved absolutely nothing through its barbaric violence and only the skeletal remains of the victims of terror and counter terror remain.

Ironically, as for the heroes who campaigned for human rights in the late 1980s and the villains there has been a role reversal. Those who valiantly took up the cudgels for the victims of southern terror and counter terror stand condemned for blatant human rights violations today and the killers of yore are championing human rights!

JVP MP Anura Dissanayake addressing the media on Tuesday blamed the PRRA (People’s Revolutionary Red Army) for killing JVP members between 1987 and 1989. The PRRA was founded by the leftists who bore the brunt of JVP violence to defend themselves but subsequently it ended up as an appendage of the Premadasa government. All the Opposition parties received lethal weapons from the UNP government to meet the JVP threat. And those who put up armed resistance against the JVP and unleashed mindless counter terror in the process became anti-war campaigners! They haven’t returned those weapons!

At the height of the JVP’s reign of terror, it may be recalled, the LTTE and its fellow travellers defended the Premadasa government which unleashed disproportionate counter terror causing the country to run red with youthful blood. For, the Tigers were honeymooning with the Premadasa government at that time. The LTTE backers who are campaigning for an international war crimes probe against Sri Lanka at the UNHRC fought quite a battle in Geneva to protect President Premadasa. Incumbent President Mahinda Rajapaksa, who as an Opposition parliamentarian and human rights activist took on the Premadasa government fearlessly and even went to Geneva in a bid to confer pariah status on that regime in the late 1980s, finds himself in an awkward position today. He is under tremendous international pressure to probe allegations of war crimes against his government and the JVP is now demanding an investigation into a mass grave.

The UNP has taken moral high ground and is urging him to respect human rights! Mum’s the word on the part of the western governments, international human rights groups and NGOs as regards the Matale mass grave!

Mass graves and massacres have been used as a political weapon in this country quite effectively. In 1977, the UNP exploited public resentment against the SLFP-led United Front government responsible for a killing spree (1971) to regain power. Its frontline politicians like Premadasa shed copious tears for the youth killed in 1971, especially Premawathi Manamperi of Kataragama. The SLFP did likewise in the early 1990s. The then Chief Minister of the Western Province Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga opened up the Suriyakanda mass grave containing the remains of a group of schoolboys killed by the rogue elements in the military and the pro-government militia in the 1987-89 period. She managed to turn the tables on the UNP in 1994.

The pain of the youth has thus been the gain of wily politicians who have no qualms about resorting to violence and violating human rights when their interests are threatened.

If experts confirm that the remains in the Matale mass grave are those of persons killed during the JVP’s second uprising or its first rebellion in 1971, the government will be left with no alternative but to conduct a high level probe. The tale the dead have to tell us must be heard and their killers brought to justice.

Now that the JVP has offered to face a probe into the killings by its military wing, Deshapremi Janatha Viyaparaya (DJV), crimes committed by the southern terrorists must be investigated albeit belatedly. If the present-day JVP leaders think, they will be able to absolve themselves of the responsibility for their party’s crimes by blaming them all on the DJV, they are sadly mistaken”.


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