(AsiaNews) - The people of Weliweriya are "still in shock" after soldiers
attacked young people who were calling on the government to provide clean
drinking water and stop pollution. During the standoff, soldiers fired on the
Church of St Anthony. Some of
them even aimed their machine guns at the upper torso of the mother superior in
an attempt to get her to surrender protest organisers. The attack left three
young men dead from gunshot wounds as they sought shelter in the church.
After a weeklong
peaceful sit-in, the protest ended in a bloodbath on 1 August. Local residents had
called on the authorities to shut
down a textile factory that is polluting local rivers and to examine
the water's toxicity level.
Unable to stop
the demonstration, police called in the army. Once on the scene, the military expelled
the media and told people to go home. At first, it was thought that the
fighting had ended with 1 dead and 15 injured. Today, the real scale of the
atrocity has become known.
people who died are Akila Dinesh (pictured), a 17-year-old Buddhist who was cremated in
religious ceremony on Sunday; Ravinash Perera; an 18-year-old Catholic who will
be buried this evening in Weliweriya;
and Nilantha Pushpakumara, a 29-year-old father of a year-old child, who was
able to call his wife from the Church of St Anthony before he was killed. Forty-five
other people were seriously injured.
eyewitnesses told AsiaNews that the
soldiers fired on the crowd and chased a group of young people inside the
Church of the Good Shepherd. Here, they started shooting at a wall to
intimidate those present.
included police, soldiers, members of the government's special task force and
even the 58th Brigade, which was stationed in the north of the country
during the war against Tamil rebels.
complain about the military's guerrilla tactics. "They came at dawn with special
torches. What were they for?" some asked.
to witnesses, the soldiers also fired on purpose at lampposts and destroyed the
local generator just to create darkness in the area. Taking advantage of this,
they launched went on manhunt.
the protesters?" some officers asked Sr Kanthi, mother superior of the convent.
She told them that they were not in the church where "ordinary worshippers were
instead reciting the rosary".
machine guns pointed straight at her, the soldiers threatened the nun and
insulted her. "You Catholics are always doing these things," they said.
cannot tolerate these attacks on innocent young people," Sr Kanthi told AsiaNews.
kept on beating the young protesters, the latter "were screaming from fear and
pain,. We had never seen anything like it; it looked like a small war. I do not
even know how many rosaries we recited to try to stop that tragic night."
has given every human life itself. We strongly condemn these killings and attacks
committed by men against other men," said Fr Lakpriya Nonis, parish priest at St
Anthony. "What is especially appalling is that they were chased into the church
can be resolved through dialogue," said Jagath Ananda Silva, secretary general
of the Independent Education Employees Union, "but the government chose not to
listen, and this has led to tragedy. Although there were provocations on the
part of the protesters, a government cannot send in the army to shoot. It is a
brutal and inhuman act that no one can tolerate."