(formerly IRIN News) Journalism from the heart of crises

Discovery of second mass grave raises questions

Following the discovery of the second mass grave in Lebanon within a month, international watchdog Amnesty International urged the Lebanese government to take immediate action to ensure that evidence at grave sites was properly preserved.

“Amnesty International has received reports that the exhumations of bodies in mass graves are not being carried out with the appropriate level of care,” the rights group stated on Monday. “There are fears that bodies may be damaged and potential evidence lost.”

In November, 21 corpses were unearthed near the Lebanese Defense Ministry in nearby Yarze, including the bodies of 17 soldiers and four civilians. Excavations of another site suspected of containing mass graves, Deir al-Qalaa in Mount Lebanon, began a week ago.

On 2 December, Lebanese security forces were joined by a committee of three coroners appointed by the state prosecutor to exhume another site in the Beqaa Valley town of Anjar, located some 58 km from the capital Beirut.

Some observers, however, complain that excavations are being carried out recklessly, with little thought for the integrity of whatever evidence might be unearthed.

Noting the delicacy of the material involved, forensic expert Fouad Ayoub, who is involved in the excavations, said: “Some of the bones are more than 20 years old,” according to media reports.

Ghazi Aad, head of the Support Organisation for Lebanese in Detention and Exile, said he witnessed digging being done at the Anjar site with backhoes. “We went to the officers and protested against the way they were exhuming,” said Aad, “but no one listened.”

Meanwhile, the friends and families of Lebanon’s many missing peoples have been kept in suspense, fearing the discovery of the bodies of their sons and husbands.

“Families are terrorised at the idea that their loved ones are among the dead,” said Jeanette Khawand, whose husband is one of the 17,000 Lebanese nationals reported missing since the 1975-90 Civil War.

DNA samples recovered from the graves will be compared with a list of missing civilians and soldiers, Ayoub said.

Survivors of the disappeared often accuse Syria, which controlled Lebanon from 1976 until the end of April this year, of standing behind the disappearances.

According to Aad, the presence of Syria had, until recently, served to delay investigation of suspicious sites. “The authorities have always been scared of the file,” given the implications it had for its relations with Syria, Aad said.

He added that local officials had been telling the authorities about their suspicions of the existence of mass graves in Anjar since 1999.

During Tuesday’s meeting of the Lebanese parliament, Beirut MP Gebran Tueini blasted pro-Syrian President Emile Lahoud, a former army commander, for never having looked into the issue.

“Why didn’t he ever search for the missing soldiers who had served under his command?” asked Tueini.

Countering suspicions of a Damascus connection, a Syrian Information Ministry official said on Sunday that such accusations were merely “new pretexts” for foreign interference in Syrian affairs.

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