Sri Lanka: mass grave recalls bloody past

Sri Lanka’s Marxist party Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) is demanding the government conduct a comprehensive investigation into a mass grave uncovered by a construction project late last year in the Central province town Matale, asserting that the more than 140 sets of human remains date to a wave of bloody repression 25 years ago. In 1988 and ’89, when the JVP was outlawed and led an armed insurrection, paramilitary groups and death squads were formed by the army, and some 60,000 were killed in massacres and assassinations. The JVP was allowed to re-enter the political process after 1993 peace accords and now holds seats in parliament, but charges that there has never been an accounting for the bloodletting of the 1980s. (Groundviews, Feb. 24; Sunday Leader, Feb. 10; Colombo Page, Feb. 5, JVP)

While the JVP is rooted in Sri Lanka’s Sinhalese majority and harshly opposed the Tamil Tiger insurgency, the Matale controversy echoes concerns over the more recent repression against the Tamils in the north. UN Human Rights Commissioner Navi Pillay last month accused the Sri Lankan government of “triumphalism” in the Tamil north, after her office released a report finding that civilians in Vanni region (the mainland section of Northern province; see map) have been forbidden from commemorating those killed in the war. 

Tamil Tiger cemeteries, containing more than 20,000 graves, have reportedly been bulldozed by Sri Lankan government forces, now occupying the Vanni. Meanwhile, museums and memorials commemorating the victors have sprung up across the province. These, Pillay said, “tend to use triumphalist images from which the local population feels a strong sense of alienation.” (World News Blog, Feb. 14)