COLOMBO - Another unmarked mass grave has been found in Sri Lanka's former war zone, police said Saturday, as Colombo braced for a US-led censure resolution at the UN rights forum next week.
A family on Friday stumbled upon nine bodies buried in the garden of their home in the district of Mullaitivu, where the final battles of the island's protracted ethnic war were fought in May 2009, police spokesman Ajith Rohana said.
"Remains of nine people had been found so far and the skeletal remains were taken for analysis by the judicial medical officer in the area," Rohana told reporters.
The latest discovery came ahead of a UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) session starting Monday in Geneva where Sri Lanka faces the third US-led resolution in as many years criticising Colombo for its alleged failure to probe war crimes.
Last month, the Public Interest Advocacy Centre in Australia accused Sri Lankan authorities of exhuming mass graves and destroying evidence of civilian killings, a charge denied by Colombo.
Sri Lanka's President Mahinda Rajapakse has said he is committed to ensuring investigations into any allegations of wrongdoing by his security forces and challenged his accusers to provide evidence.
The military on Saturday denied it had anything to do with the latest mass grave found in the former conflict area and said the victims could be civilians or conscripted combatants killed by the Tigers themselves.
"Some interested parties are attempting to portray this as evidence of an incident for which the government and security forces should be held responsible," military spokesman Brigadier Ruwan Wanigasooriya said in a statement.
He said there was no "factual basis" to point a finger at government forces.
"The LTTE (Tamil Tigers) unhesitatingly killed any individual or group of people that attempted to defy their orders," Wanigasooriya said. "The skeletal remains found recently near a former LTTE-held area could very well be such dead buried secretly." The latest discovery also comes days after officials raised the number of bodies found in December in an unmarked mass grave in the adjoining district of Mannar to 80.
It was the first grave uncovered in the ex-war zone since troops defeated Tamil rebels nearly five years ago, following a decades-long conflict over demands for a separate homeland for ethnic minority Tamils.
The final battles between government forces and Tamil Tiger rebels were fought in the Mullaitivu district which was a stronghold of the separatist guerrillas for over two decades.
The United Nations estimates the ethnic war between 1972 and 2009 in Sri Lanka claimed at least 100,000 lives.
Last year, construction workers stumbled on another mass grave in central Sri Lanka, hundreds of kilometres from the conflict zone.
At least 154 people were found in Matale district, the scene of an anti-government uprising between 1987 and 1990 unrelated to the Tamil separatist conflict.
Remains from that grave have been sent to China for further tests.