As the death toll rose to three from the Weliweriya clashes on Thursday night, enraged residents told the BBC the morning after the incident that security forces personnel had pursued and attacked people inside the St. Anthony’s Church in the area.
“According to internationally accepted rules of war it is illegal to attack people inside a hospital, a religious place of worship or a school,” one resident of Weliweriya told the BBC.
“It is also against these rules to shoot at people who raise their hands in surrender. You can arrest them and prosecute them. You cannot shoot them. It is a lowly group who did not even know these international laws that attacked this church,” he said in the interview.
Residents said that there were bullet holes and bloodstains at the church. They said the parish grounds had been filled that night with people seeking refuge and looking for their loved ones who had gone to demonstrate against the contamination of ground water in the area.
“There was blood pouring from their noses and mouths. They pushed me with their assault rifles,” one woman told the BBC.
Even as a tight security cordon was thrown around the Weliweriya town as residents prepared to mourn the death of 17 year old Akila Dinesh, the first victim of the violence, the Colombo National Hospital reported that a third victim, 29 year old Nilantha had succumbed to his injuries, bringing the death toll to three.
Despite the official figures citing only Akila’s death, residents vowed that the casualties had been higher after seeing their friends and neighbours fall beside them as soldiers deployed to quell the demonstration fired into the crowd.
The Government moved in large contingents of Special Task Force personnel and Riot Squads into Weliweriya last night to ensure crowds of mourners did not get unruly during the funeral, eyewitnesses said.