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Mannar court summons experts over Sathosa mass grave as case hits a standstill

Mannar Magistrate Court has summoned the Chief Judicial Medical Officer and other experts to attend the next hearing on the Sathosa mass grave for failing to provide a comprehensive report on the excavations. 

The lawyers representing the families of the disappeared persons V.S. Niranjan told reporters outside the courts that the reports furnished by the Chief JMO Dr. Saminda Rajapakshe are incomplete and contain no information relating to the evidence that has been gathered so far. Details such as the cause of death, their age, and other important evidence were missing the lawyers argued. 

The courts also directed that reports from experts such as Professor Raj Somadeva should also be present at the next hearing which is set to take place on May 13, upon which the court will direct the next steps regarding the ongoing excavations.

Last year when the case was taken up, the lawyers representing the families of the disappeared issued a complaint against the Chief JMO Dr. Saminda Rajapakshe, alleging that he had misled investigations. 

The lawyers argued that only after the comprehensive report has been submitted and studied by the court and the relevant legal representatives can it be determined if further excavations need to be carried out.

They requested that the court issue an order to produce a comprehensive report on the mass grave. This should include a comprehensive report by the Chief JMO on all the procedures that have been carried out so far, what are the operational framework that needs to be further implemented, and how they should be implemented. Additionally, similar reports from forensic archaeologist Prof. Raj Somadeva, the Police, and other relevant experts should be included in the comprehensive report.

A total of 318 bodies, including that of 18 children, were discovered at this mass grave in May 2019, when construction work was being carried out at the local supermarket Sathosa, near the A14 highway by construction workers. Subsequently, excavations were carried out with the Officer of the Missing Persons acting as an independent observer. 

According to a report on mass graves by the International Truth and Justice Project, metal bindings that were recovered had been used to tie legs together.  

Six skeletal samples were sent to Beta Analytics Inc. in Florida, USA to determine the age of the grave. Analysis by the firm dated the grave to be between 1477 and 1719, where expert opinions of investigators involved in the excavation and exhumation claimed that the grave could not have been more than 30 years old.

The skeletal remains that have been exhumed are currently in the custody of the Magistrate court. Mannar's Magistrate court ordered a comprehensive report on 5th July. This was after a hearing in which witnesses representing up to 27 various departments testified. Lawyers representing the state, the Chief Judicial Medical Officer, the Office of Missing Persons, the victims, and the Sri Lanka Army were also present

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