Wednesday, 27 March 2013

Sri Lankan mass grave dates back 25 years

A judge announced Wednesday that more than 150 human skulls and bones recovered from a mass grave were buried there about 25 years ago, strengthening suspicion that they belonged to suspected Marxist rebels killed at the time.

Magistrate Chathurika de Silva told a court in the central town of Matale that tests show the skeletal remains found inside the premises of a government hospital dated to between 1987 and 1990. During that period, thousands of men and women suspected of having ties to the rebels disappeared after being arrested by security forces.

De Silva did not explain the cause of death but declared the mass grave a crime scene.

The military could not be contacted immediately for comment.

Workers found human remains while doing construction on part of the hospital land last December. The skeletons had been buried in neat rows, five or six stacked on top of one another totaling 154.

Claims were made initially that the bodies belonged to those killed in an epidemic in the 1940s or a mudslide. However, hospital authorities did not have any records off bodies buried on the premises.

The Marxist group People's Liberation Front, which led two uprisings, claimed that the bodies may belong to comrades killed by security forces. The bodies of many young men and women arrested by paramilitaries were found burning by the roadside or floating in rivers at the time.

The Marxists were mostly Sinhalese, the country's majority ethnic community.

Sri Lankan forces are also accused of killing scores of civilians and captured rebels at the end of a quarter-century civil war with ethnic minority Tamil separatists.

The United Nations Human Rights Council last week passed a resolution urging Sri Lanka to investigate war crimes allegations against both government forces and Tamil Tiger rebels.

Wednesday 27 March 2013

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Soldiers train on battlefield recovery of human remains

From behind a tree stump, Pfc. Brandan Bishop peers at the training dummy 20 meters away. He has rope-tied a slipknot onto the body to pull it clear from any possible undetected explosive devices that are sometimes planted onto battle casualties.

His teammates, taking cover even farther away, listen to him shout a countdown before he pulls the rope, dragging the simulated casualty approximately five meters.

With an all-clear signal, the rest of Bishop’s team moves in with equipment to begin work on the casualty and to search the surrounding area for other remains.

Soldiers with A Troop, 8th Squadron, 1st Cavalry Regiment, went through a course to certify as Company Level Evacuation and Recovery team members, March 18-20.

The primary task of the CLEAR team is to search for and recover human remains from the battlefield.

Sgt. 1st Class Michael Harris, a mortuary affairs specialist from Memphis, Tenn., assigned to 593rd Sustainment Brigade, has been a CLEAR team instructor since December 2011.

“Most companies are supposed to have a five-man team designated for casualty retrievals, so most of the soldiers I train are preparing for a deployment,” Harris said. “Downrange, most of the mortuary affairs soldiers will work at the collection point, we do the final stages of processing the remains before they’re shipped home to the families.”

The first day of the course, soldiers learn the history of mortuary affairs.

“We had some demonstrations as to what we can expect while doing this job,” said Spc. Patrick Nezzie, a cavalry scout from Snowflake, Ariz.

“There were presentations on coping with death and we saw slides with photos of the kinds of things we may see.”

The class also went over how to fill out the documentation required for processing human remains.

“The documentation is important. The family would want everything that was on the body of the deceased – so the record of personal effects is something we take seriously,” Nezzie said.

The first day of instruction also went over procedures for approaching a body on the battlefield.

“You don’t know if the body is booby-trapped, if there’s unexploded ordnance nearby, so we take precautions,” Nezzie said.

The second day, the class visited the morgue at the Pierce County Medical Examiner facility in Tacoma, Wash., to observe how bodies may be handled at a collection point. The students had an opportunity to experience some hands-on procedures similar to those necessary in preparing a body to ship home during deployment.

“The smell coming off those cadavers was very bad, I had to catch myself from getting sick,” said Spc. Keith Arthur, a cavalry scout from Lawnside, N.J.

The morgue visit is a standard part of the course. Sharon Johnson, program director for the Pierce County Medical Examiner, regularly hosts the student visits.

“We really enjoy participating, and letting the Soldiers have the hands-on experience with the decedents,” Johnson said. “The feedback has been largely positive as it’s such an insightful experience.”

Many of the deceased come directly from the hospital, some from accident scenes.

“That was a shock to all of us, even though we’ve been through deployment and seen the ugly side of that,” said Nezzie. “But even just seeing a body presented to us wasn’t easy.”

The class also observed two autopsies from beginning to end.

“That was an eye-opener. I have a lot of respect for people who do that because I could not,” Nezzie said.

“It’s kind of a desensitizing experience, so that if you do encounter a body, it’s not as much of a shock, having seen an autopsy. If I had to deploy in six months, I’d be confident we could do this job,” said Pfc. Brandan Bishop, a cavalry scout from Kingsport, Tenn.

The workload is divided among the CLEAR team’s personnel so that the process moves faster, once on the battlefield.

“We split up the roles but we each know every aspect of what needs to be done, whether it’s sketching, land navigation, marking the spots where we find human remains or filling out the paperwork,” said Nezzie, whose role was to pull personal effects from the body on the final practical exercise.

“Downrange, we’ll work 48 hours on, 48 hours off. In those 48 hours it’s steady,” Harris said. “It’s a quick process, and the quicker we can do this, the quicker the remains can get back home to their families.”

For the final practical exercise, the students took part in a search and recovery scenario using grid coordinates. Upon finding the simulated human remains, students were critiqued on their techniques with making site sketches, sanitation, and using the correct search patterns.

Harris also examined the team’s procedures for extracting the remains from the site and the use of CLEAR team kits and form annotations.

“With the personal effects, it is important. Those are going to go to somebody, it’s going to mean something to somebody down the road. That’s why we go over it in such detail.”

Working at the collection points and evacuation points Harris has gone through countless personal effects.

“I’ve had soldiers read the back of pictures, letters, go through wallets to detail this stuff. It does pull on the heartstrings a lot of times when you see a picture of somebody’s kid and on the back of it reads ‘To daddy…’ and it’s tough,” Harris said.

“As long as in your mind you know and think ‘hey, I’m going to make sure this hero’s taken care of’ and that’s part of your job; this is why we do it. We’re doing it to take care of our buddies.”

Wednesday 27 March 2013

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Death Toll From Cililin Landslide Hits 12, Search for Victims Continues

Rescuers have unearthed two more bodies buried in Monday’s landslide in Cililin, West Bandung, bringing the death toll to 12.

West Java Disaster Mitigation Agency head Udjwalaprana Sigit told that the two bodies were found on Wednesday morning.

“The two bodies were found at the same time,” Sigit said as quoted by “We’re still identifying them.”

The search and rescue team is still looking for five others who were reported missing after a landslide buried nine houses as heavy rains pounded the subdistrict.

Sigit said that while rescue efforts have been slow as the team has to manually dig for bodies using hoes and shovels, the entire community has united in the search.

“The family of the victims are also searching because they know where to locate the houses that had been buried by the landslide,” Sigit said. “It makes the work of the evacuation team that search for the victims easier. Beside it, two police dogs from West Java Police also help search.”

The West Bandung mayor has placed the district in a state of emergency until Sunday.

It is the second deadly landslide to strike Indonesia this month. Three people were killed and one injured after heavy downpours triggered a landslide in Papua’s provincial capital earlier this month.

Wednesday 27 March 2013

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India: Six killed in Bangalore factory fire

The government has ordered a thorough inquiry into Monday’s fire accident at S R Seating Systems at Kadabagere Cross, Magadi Road, that left six labourers dead.

The Ramanagar district police on Tuesday arrested Amith Rathore, owner of S R Seating Systems and Ramakrishnaiah, the owner of the building where the factory had been housed, on the charges of criminal negligence.

The two will be produced before a magistrate court on Wednesday and the police are expected to seek their custody for further investigation into the case.

Ramalingappa, Deputy Superintendent of Police, Ramanagar, will head the special team formed to probe the accident. The arrests were made based on the case registered at the Tavarekere police station.

Meanwhile, of the seven men working in the factory, six were found dead in the blaze. The seventh, suspected to have gone out for tea early in the morning after locking the shutters from outside, is missing.

It had been said that the lone survivor was Nadeem Khan. However, after the bodies were shifted to Rajarajeshwari Medical College and Hospital at Kengeri and autopsies performed on Monday night, Shamsuddin, the younger brother of Sartaj, identified Nadeem Khan as among the dead and said it was Noor Hussein who was missing.

Anupam Agarwal, Superintendent of Police, Ramanagar, said: “All were working under Sartaj, the elder brother of Shamsuddin, who had brought them from Bijnore in Uttar Pradesh. During autopsy, faces of all the bodies were cleaned and this might have resulted in correct identification. There might have been some confusion at the accident spot leading to false identification.”

Lakshman, purchase manager, S R Seating Systems, had identified the six dead bodies as those of Sartaj, 28, the supervisor, Noor Hussein (28), Shoaib (22), Gazi (20), Usman (18) and Talib (24). He too had said Nadeem Khan was missing.

Bodies airlifted

After autopsy, all the six bodies were airlifted to Lucknow and from there to Bijnore. The bodies left Bengaluru International Airport by a special flight, Agarwal said. The Ramanagar police have launched a manhunt for Noor Hussein. Ramalingappa said till Hussein was traced, nothing could be said of the origin of the fire and how the factory shutter was locked from outside. He did not rule out foul play.

The forensic team and the electricity board officials who inspected the scene of fire are expected to submit their report in a day or two. Sources in the Forensic Lab said they were yet to trace the origin of the fire.

The electricity board engineers said though the power connection was illegal and taken on a temporary basis for construction purposes, they have not been able to establish that the fire was triggered by a short circuit.

Labour Minister B N Bache Gowda, who visited the spot, said the labour department would inquire into the lack of labour safety measures and abject conditions in which the workers were forced to work. Ravi Kumar, Assistant Labour Commissioner, will head the probe.

He also said he would talk to Chief Minister Jagadish Shettar for releasing compensation from the Chief Minister’s Relief Fund to the families of the six victims.

Wednesday 27 March 2013

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