JAFFNA, Sri Lanka — Wailing mothers and sobbing fathers filed past scraps of clothing and two human skeletons displayed on tables in a police station Friday to determine if the remains belonged to about 300 people who disappeared while in military custody.
The skeletons--one blindfolded and bound--were exhumed Thursday at a site in northern Sri Lanka where a former soldier said he helped bury bodies in mass graves. The remains will be sent to experts for further examination.
The skeletons were identified as R.S. Kumar, 29, and Mahendran Babu, 23, both car mechanics in Jaffna. They disappeared after being picked up by the army in 1996 at the garage where they worked.
Kumar's wife identified his skeleton by the clothes and teeth. The garage owner identified Babu by a pendant and his clothes.
The missing people's relatives, who call themselves Members of the Guardian Assn. for Persons Arrested and Disappeared in North, started assembling at the police station at dawn.
"We have documented 270 cases of our children who have disappeared after they were picked up by the army since 1996," said the group's secretary, S. Satkuman.
About 600 Tamils disappeared from military custody after government troops captured the northern peninsula in early 1996. Jaffna, an area where Tamils form a majority, was a rebel stronghold of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, who have been fighting for a separate homeland.
The bodies were exhumed Wednesday in the presence of Western observers and experts. After two full skeletons were recovered, further digging was halted pending studies of the remains.
District Magistrate M. Elamchelian ruled that digging for more bodies can resume only after the experts submit their reports, which he said must be turned in by July 15.
The Sri Lankan government, eager to improve its human rights image, agreed to excavate the area about 10 months after a soldier, Lance Cpl. Somaratne Rajapakse, told judges that he had helped bury bodies under the orders of his superiors.
On Wednesday, Rajapakse told a Jaffna court that there were 10 sites where he was ordered to help bury about 300 bodies.
Tamils say they face discrimination by the country's majority Sinhalese, who control the government and military. More than 58,000 people have died in the insurrection.
The Sri Lankan government denies the charge.