Sri Lanka military defends killings during riot

Sri Lanka's military on Monday defended its soldiers who have been accused of massacring prisoners during a jail riot last week, saying the inmates were heavily armed and posed a danger to the public.

Sri Lanka's main opposition party has accused security forces of killing in cold blood after the deaths of 27 inmates in maximum-security Welikada jail in the capital Colombo during a riot on Friday and Saturday morning.

"I reject these allegations completely," military spokesman Ruwan Wanigasooriya told AFP, adding that there was "stiff resistance" from prisoners armed with assault rifles looted from the prison armoury.

"Our objective was not to go in and (fire) burst around. If we did not go in, there was a risk of 4,000 convicts escaping and posing a bigger danger," he added.

The army was deployed at the request of the police in line with legal provisions of the Criminal Procedure Code, Wanigasooriya said, rejecting opposition claims that the military had no authority to intervene.

The main opposition United National Party on Sunday called for a parliamentary investigation into the prison riot, the worst in nearly thirty years.

The opposition said 16 convicts were killed on late Friday evening while 11 more had been gunned down early on Saturday after troops were called in.

Police said autopsies had been conducted on 22 out of the 27 convicts, but the reports will not be released.

Only one convict, who has not been named, remains on the run, police say. Seven others who escaped on Friday night were arrested almost immediately.

During the riot, which started as police conducted a search for drugs and smuggled mobile phones, inmates climbed onto the roof and fired at troops and police.

Sri Lanka's elite Special Task Force police swapped fire with inmates for several hours until calm was restored early on Saturday, while soldiers arrived in armoured personnel carriers.

Forty three people, including 13 police commandos, four soldiers and two civilians, were also injured.

Friday's violence was the worst prison riot in Sri Lanka since 1983, when more than 50 ethnic Tamil prisoners were massacred at the same jail by Sinhalese convicts during anti-Tamil riots that gripped the country.

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