Sri Lanka steps up security as protest toll rises

Police poured into a village near Sri Lanka`s capital ahead of the funeral on Sunday of a teenager shot dead by troops during a protest against contaminated water, residents said.

Updated: Aug 04, 2013, 21:25 PM IST

Colombo: Police poured into a village near Sri Lanka`s capital ahead of the funeral on Sunday of a teenager shot dead by troops during a protest against contaminated water, residents said.
Security in Weliweriya village was strengthened as a hospital official said a third person had died after succumbing to injuries sustained during the army`s crackdown on the residents` protest on Thursday.

"We have another three people in the intensive care and their condition is serious," spokeswoman for the hospital in Colombo, Pushpa Soysa told.

Police said 17-year-old Akila Dinesh Jayawardena was killed when troops fired at unarmed residents demonstrating against a factory which they accused of discharging chemical waste and polluting ground water.

Jayawardena was buried today evening amid tight security by police commandos who were seen near the village cemetery too.

Mourners returning from the burial stopped briefly at the village centre to shout slogans denouncing the authorities and pressing their demand for safe drinking water. They dispersed peacefully, witnesses said.

Roman Catholic priest Lakpriya Nonis said armed troops stormed his St. Anthony`s church shortly after Thursday`s protest and assaulted men, women and children who had sought refuge there.

"They came into the church premises and assaulted people sheltering inside," the priest told reporters after today`s burial.

Official sources said nearly 50 people were injured with most of them suffering bullet wounds while some had been beaten with sticks and rifle butts.

The privately-run Sunday Times said up to six people had been killed and that authorities were not revealing the total number of casualties.

The burials of the other two victims are yet to be decided, locals said. The second victim died of his injuries overnight on Friday.

"There are a lot of police at the funeral as well as in the neighbourhood," a resident of Weliweriya village, who requested anonymity, told.

Military spokesman Brigadier Ruwan Wanigasooriya said the army withdrew from the area late yesterday. Residents may be mistaking police Special Task Force Commandos dressed in camouflaged uniforms as troops, he added.

"We don`t have any presence in the area now. We have launched an investigation into the incident," Wanigasooriya said, while declining to say what disciplinary action would be taken.

Criticism by the opposition and rights groups of the army`s use of force has mounted since the shootings. Private television networks have broadcast footage of troops opening fire at unarmed residents.

The shootings come ahead of a visit to the island by the UN rights chief Navi Pillay later this month.

AFP