Brutal military force was unleashed in the Weliweriya area of Gampaha on people engaged in a protest demonstration against pollution of water by acidic contamination caused by a glove manufacturing plant.
Pic courtesy of: twitter.com/azzamameen
One person was killed and at least 46 people injured due to firing by the military.Two journalists were also injured.Eight Police and four military personnel also sustained injuries.Unofficial reports said one mote person had succumbed to his injuries while four others were in a critical condition
An unofficial curfew was declared and a black out of power has been enforced in the area.Telephone transmission was curtailed.Transport along the Colombo-Kandy road was also halted.
Military personnel are currently scouring the area going from house to house in search of the leaders who organized the protest demonstration.According to beleaguered residents the military has virtually besieged the area.
A 17 year old male named Akila Dinesh a student at Chandrajothy Maha Vidyalaya in Yakkala was killed. At least 46 were injured of whom and 24 were hospitalised, as a protest demonstration , in the Belummahara Junction along the New Kandy-Colombo Road turned violent with the protesters clashing with the Army personnel deployed to disperse the crowds and quell the situation.
According to eye witnesses the protesters had objected to the Army presence and in the ensuing mayhem when army opened fire , one person had died due to gunshot injuries.
The soldiers were wearing flak jackets and carrying T-56 assault rifles as if they were engaged in war against a deadly enemy whereas the protesting civilians were unarmed except for a few throwing stones.
The army said it had been compelled to fire as the troops had come under attack by those demanding the closure of a factory allegedly responsible for polluting ground water in the Rathupaswela area of Weliveriya.
Brigadier Deshapriya Gunawardhana and Col. Shyamal de Silva of the Army Commando regiment were in command of the military operation it is alleged.Many of the soldiers involved allegedly belonged to the 58 division and commando detachments.
The military -civilian confrontation occurred on the first day of assuming command by the new Army chief Gen Daya Ratnayake.
A tense situation was earlier reported in Belummahara, after police used teargas and water cannons to control area residents who were protesting demanding clean water. The Colombo-Kandy Road was blocked by the protesters. For the past several days, residents of Weliweriya, Belummahara, have been claiming that the water in the area is not suitable for drinking due to chemicals being disposed from a factory manufacturing gloves in the area that has contaminated their supply of drinking water. The factory is owned by Dipped Products PLC a subsidiary of Hayleys Group.
Reportedly the residents of Nedungamuwa and Ratupaswala areas had been undergoing much hardship as a result of the chemical disposal contaminating their supply of drinking water.
On Thursday August 1st 2013 afternoon, the residents got on to the street demanding that the factory be closed down. They also resorted to blocking the entrance to the factory premises demanding that the authorities provide a solution to the problem.
There were four to five thousand protesters from ten villages. The shops were closed and black flags were hoisted in protest against the alleged water issue.
Security contingents moved in when the villagers living in Rathupaswala, Weliweriya and surrounding villages, blocked the Kandy-Colombo main road for several hours from noon demanding the closure of the factory, which they claimed was polluting their ground water.
The police backed by troops fired tear gas and baton charged protesters in a bid to clear the road. The police used tear gas, water cannon and rubber bullets to clear the crowds.
Some youths in the crowd had retaliated by throwing stones at the Police.A few molotov cocktails were also thrown.
Some army troops and police personnel including Weliweriya OIC IP Upali were reportedly injured in the stone throwing and petrol bomb attacks
This led to the military opening fire on the crowds shooting live bullets.Military also chased fleeing public and assaulted them with severely with poles.
During the unofficial curfew soldiers blocked traffic and moved through side roads conducting house to house searches for injured youths arresting them as suspects behind the demonstration. Several such youths were bailed out by the Catholic St.Anthonys Church parish priest Fr.Lakpriya Nonis.
Earlier the military stormed into St. Anthonys Church and ruthlessly assaulted scores of people found inside.Hundreds of people fleeing the Police-Military crackdown had taken refuge inside the church.
The chief incumbent of the Galoluwa Buddhist Temple, the venerable Siridhamma Thero had launched a fast unto death on Monday after talks held with the authorities to resolve the issue had failed.
The drinking water in the area is believed to have been contaminated from chemical waste released from a gloves factory in the area.A five kilometer area is said to be contaminated.
The venerable Siridhamma Thero said that the residents in the area are demanding that the factory be shut down and safe drinking water assured to them.
Talks were held on Monday between government officials, the monk and public representatives in order to resolve the issue.
However the venerable Siridhamma Thero said that the talks had failed and so he had decided to launch a protest.
He suspended the protest later but resumed it again on Thursday.
When the respected monk resumed the protest after suspending it earlier ,large crowds comprising affected residents of the area gathered in support at the venue in Weliweriya.
From Weliweriya the protesters moved to the Belummahara junction blocking the traffic movement between Kandy and Colombo.
Journalists and camera crew were prevented from covering the clashes, with the military moving to destroy the memory cards of at least one photojournalist reporting in the area.When soldiers discovered some journalists on a high rise building covering the incident they were threatened and chased away.
Ada Newspaper photojournalist Chanuka Kulasekera was admitted to the Gampaha hospital following the clashes. His camera has been damaged in the attacks.
It was reported that the Lankadeepa journalist Ms. Deepa Adhikari who went to cover the Waliweriya incident has been injured.
Although her forehead was wounded and was in need of stitches, she has been unable to get help to go to a hospital up until 8.00 pm.
In a discussion representatives of the protesters had with Defence and Urban Development Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa the latter promised to provide the affected villagers with water from bowsers to ease the situation and the company be temporally closed for two weeks.
Meanwhile, Gampaha SP, Ranjith Marasinghe filed a petition in the Gampaha Magistrate’s Court, seeking a legal avenue to control the tense situation prevalent in the vicinity of the factory in question in Weliweriya.
The Court, while ordering five institutions to provide an immediate report regarding the quality of the water in the Ratupaswala area and issuing summons on the Government Analyst, Board of Investment (BoI), Central Environment Authority (CEA), Water Supply and Drainage Board and the Gampaha Medical Officer of Health, had stated the police have equal powers as the Court, to take appropriate action to maintain peace.
SP Marasinghe told the Court that although the police had conducted themselves peacefully so far, but the people in the area continue to agitate and protest against the issue.
Counsels representing the Management of the factory said, they would incur a loss of Rs 1 million, daily, if the factory is closed, and nearly 600 people would lose their jobs. He requested police to use their powers to disperse the protestors. The case will be taken up for hearing again on 22 August.
UNP communications division head and Parliamentarian Mangala Samaraweera stated that while the defence secretary was discussing with the representatives of Rathupaswala protestors, he had deployed his para military armies to brutally assault and shoot down the people.
Mr. Samaraweera ,made this comment while answering a question raised by a journalist regarding the Weliweriya and Balummahara crisis, after the meeting held at Matara.
He said that Mr. Gotabaya Rajapaksa has informed the protesters who were demanding drinkable water,to send a delegation to the defence ministry around 2.30pm today and that in the meantime, a group of people who were clad in uniforms and plain cloths have attacked the protesters.
He further said that an army officer had threatened them to leave with five minutes or else they are going to attack.
And then the armies of thugs have started to beat the protesters with sticks, said the UNP MP.
Samaraweera alleged that when the “Vinigross” factory belonging to Dhammika Perera had emitted toxic substances to the drinking water, instead of providing the people water, the Govt has shot them down.
The Government responded with brute force to a simple human request by innocent villagers in Gampaha for clean drinking water, UNP Gampaha District MP Karu Jayasuriya said yesterday.
“The people asked for water, this Government gave them bullets,” the Opposition MP told a press conference yesterday.
Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa claimed the villagers of the small town in Gampaha had been provoked by elements with vested interest into what he called “needless confrontations.” The Weliweriya drinking water dispute was settled satisfactorily and the protesting public were satisfied with the solution offered to close a factory which allegedly caused the contamination, but those with political motives provoked some of the residents to stage protests, the Government Information Department quoted the Defence Secretary as saying.
New Army Commander Lt. Gen. Daya Ratnayake yesterday appointed a Board of Inquiry headed by Ajudant-General Major General Jagath Dias to probe the Weliveriya incident. According to Army Spokesman Brigadier Ruwan Wanigasuriya, this Board of Inquiry consists of 5 senior officers of the Sri Lanka Army.
This board will lay speical emphasis on the conduct of Army personnel during the incident.
(Compiled from News Reports in Newspapers and Websites )