The turnoff was exactly four miles north of the tiny market village of Bon Repos, next to a billboard for Daihatsu automobiles that read in French, "Caution: The Road Kills."

The desolate landscape was littered with shards of glass, and populated only by stray goats gnawing on weeds and rusted cans.

Down the path was the first grave, a large open pit about 10 feet long, 4 feet wide and 3 feet deep. Inside were ashes that appeared to be fresh. Also inside were two charred human skulls and several burned bone fragments.

Next to the pit was a pile of nine skulls; some of them were blackened. A few feet away were three large dirt mounds whose color -- richer and blacker than the dull brown earth around them -- suggested that they were the product of recent digging. The largest mound in the center was about two feet high.

Human arm and leg bones protruded from the mound, and some tatters of clothing added flashes of color. Nearby was a white plastic purse.

About 40 paces toward the sea was another large mound of dirt, covered with bones and clothing, and six smaller patches of black earth were nearby.

The mass burial site was discovered about 10 miles north of the capital of Port-au-Prince, just off Haiti's main costal road. Two American reporters were directed to it by a foreign antigovernment priest in the capital, who said that the site was a traditional spot for the Army and security forces to dump the bodies of their victims.

Several residents also said that the site was a dumping ground for bodies, which they said were carried here in pick-up trucks.

"There are always trucks coming in and out. They throw the bodies and leave," a villager living in the area said. Two area residents said in separate interviews that trucks had come last weekend to deliver bodies following widespread street protests against the government of President-for-Life Jean-Claude Duvalier.

A spokesman for the U.S. Embassy in Port-au-Prince said that it had not heard rumors of the existence of such a mass grave.

Since the riots erupted in several cities last week, prompting Duvalier to declare a state of siege, rumors have circulated in the capital that the number of persons killed was much greater than the confirmed death toll of eight.

Unconfirmed reports put the toll as high as 150 dead, according to a U.S. television network. An Information Ministry spokesman, Guy Mayer, yesterday called those reports "absolutely false."

Body counts from local hospitals and the morgue have not borne out the persistent and widespread rumors, but the discovery of the burial site raised the possibility that the corpses were being taken elsewhere. Mayer was not available this afternoon or in the early evening to comment on the discovery of the mass grave.

Haiti is a predominantly Roman Catholic country where traditional burial rites normally are observed.

Two generations of the Duvalier dictatorship have relied on widespread repression to maintain power and control on this impoverished Caribbean island nation, the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. Francois (Papa Doc) Duvalier relied on the notorious Ton-Tons Macoutes, a feared police service whose members wear blue denims and often carry crude clubs. The younger Duvalier, while renaming that force the "Volunteers For Public Security," has still relied on them in holding power.

The Ton-Tons Macoutes, as well as the green-clad regular Army troops, have been out in force in the capital and small towns since a state of siege was declared here Jan. 31.

Duvalier often has spoken of "democratization" of his dictatorship since taking over when his father died in 1971. But his tough reaction to the current unrest seems to have endangered any further movement toward liberalization. It also seemed to throw further doubt on human rights certification by the U.S. government, which has already suspended some aid to Haiti because of human rights abuses.

The foreign priest said those injured by the security forces in the capital are taken to military hospitals instead of to the civilian general hospital. At the military hospital, "they just finish them off," he said.

According to the priest, the bodies were taken in trucks at night along Haiti's National Route 1 to a site north of the capital that he said had long been used for mass graves. Local residents also said that the trucks had been coming for a long time.

Several trucks have been leaving every night since Friday, according to the priest, with the drivers forced to wear surgical masks because of the stench.

The reporters tracked the route by asking local town dwellers along the way if they knew of a dumping ground for bodies.

Most had heard the rumors, and directed the journalists to look for a path covered with "machine parts" heading off the main road toward the beach.

Following what appeared to be tire tracks in the sand, the reporters found a path littered with rusted machine parts and glass. Twenty human skulls were counted scattered across the burial site farther on.