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Sri Lankan soldiers acquitted over massacre of Tamils

Outside of the courtroom following the acquittal announcement.

Six former Sri Lankan army corporals were acquitted by a Sri Lankan court today over the rape and massacre of 24 Tamil civilians in Kumarapuram in 1996.

The Sri Lankan soldiers were standing on trial over the involvement in the killings, which took place in the village in southern Trincomalee on the 11th of February 1996. Several women and children among the murdered and two young girls were raped before they were killed.

No one has yet been held accountable for the murders, with the Sri Lankan court having acquitted the soldiers of all of the 101 indictments they faced each.

High Court judge Manjula Thilakaratne delivered the verdict after the jury at Anuradhapura High Court decided the soldiers could not be prosecuted, despite eye witnesses identifying those allegedly involved. All physical evidence relating to the case, including the weapons allegedly used by the soldiers, were apparently destroyed in a fire at the office of the Government Analyst in Colombo in 2004.

Survivors of the massacre had initially identified the alleged perpetrators from a line up, with 20 reported arrests made. Despite the nature of the crime, all the suspects were promptly released on bail.

Amnesty International said this of the massacre at the time:

"The Kumarapuram incident - The largest incident of deliberate and arbitrary killings of civilians by the security forces since the resumption of the armed conflict in April 1995 took place at Kumarapuram, Trincomalee district, on 11 February 1996. According to several survivors interviewed by Amnesty International, 24 civilians, including 13 women and seven children below the age of 12, were killed by soldiers from the 58th Mile Post and Dehiwatte army camps, accompanied by Home Guards from Dehiwatte.

The killings were in apparent reprisal for the killings by the LTTE of two soldiers near the 58th Mile Post about half an hour earlier. According to one witness, a group of soldiers, some of whom were drunk, gathered at Dehiwatte junction and then proceeded towards Kumarapuram, shouting "Death to the Tamils".

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