The US urged Sri Lanka on Saturday to investigate the recent killing by soldiers of unarmed protesters who were demanding clean drinking water.
Three youths were shot dead and at least 33 people wounded on Aug. 1, when the military fired at demonstrators in Weliweriya, a village about 30km north of Colombo, who were protesting against factory waste contaminating ground water.
Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s government has ordered the army to conduct a prompt investigation into the incident, during which, the protesters say, the military attacked them as they took refuge in a church.
“We are particularly concerned by reports that protesters seeking refuge within a Catholic church were attacked there. There is never any excuse for violence, particularly in a house of worship,” US Department of State spokeswoman Jen Psaki said in a statement. “We call for a thorough and transparent inquiry into all aspects of the Weliweriya violence, for those conclusions to be made public, and for there to be a credible mechanism to prosecute any wrongdoing.”
The government said the soldiers reacted in self-defense against protesters hurling rocks and gasoline bombs, violence it said was incited by “external forces.”
“It’s undisputed that security forces killed three protesters, but the Sri Lankan government’s knee-jerk reaction is to deny possible wrongdoing,” said Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director at New York-based advocacy group Human Rights Watch.
Sri Lankan Army Commander Daya Rathnayake has appointed a five-member committee to look into the incident, but Amnesty International said the military should not be allowed to investigate itself.
Rajapaksa is already under pressure from Western countries and the UN over alleged human right abuses during the last phase of a civil war that ended in May 2009 with the military annihilating separatist Tamil Tiger rebels.