A SHOOT-OUT between rioting prisoners and security forces at a prison in Sri Lanka’s capital killed at least 27 inmates. Police said yesterday they arrested five prisoners who had managed to escape and were searching for others.
Another 42 people were wounded in the shoot-out between inmates and army and police commandos that broke out after the rioting prisoners briefly took control of at least part of the Welikada jail in Colombo. The situation at the prison was said to have returned to normal later in the day.
“The prison is now totally under our control,” said Sri Lanka’s Commissioner General of Prisons P W Kodippili.
Dr Anil Jasinghe, director of the Colombo National Hospital, said the bodies of 16 inmates were at his hospital.
Kodippili said that security forces had found the bodies of 11 other inmates inside the prison premises, taking the total death toll to 27.
Twenty-three inmates who were injured in the clash were receiving treatment at the hospital, Jasinghe said. Thirteen police officers, four soldiers, a prison guard and a passer-by also were being treated there for injuries.
Police spokesman Prishantha Jayakody said five inmates who had escaped from the prison, which was the site of another riot earlier this year, were arrested.
Kodippili declined to say how many inmates may have escaped, but said that search operations were under way to try to find others who may have fled.
Jayakody said the fighting began when police commandos went to the prison to conduct a search and were attacked by inmates hurling stones. He declined to provide more information. Officials often conduct raids to search for narcotics and communication devices.
A photographer reported seeing prisoners waving rifles on top of the prison’s roof on Friday night.
Other prisoners piled into a three-wheeled vehicle and began driving towards a main city road before security forces outside the prison opened fire. The vehicle stopped, and three unmoving bodies could be seen. Dozens of security officers then entered the prison, and volleys of gunfire rang out. Prisoners could be heard screaming, “Stop shooting!”
Army troops were called in later to help control the situation.
Kodippili said the inmates had broken into the prison’s two armouries during the riot and taken weapons which were stored there.
The inmates opened fire at police commandos, who shot back.
Kodippili said security forces had so far recovered 76 weapons taken by the prisoners and that six more weapons were still missing.
Clashes between inmates and guards at the same prison last January left 28 people wounded.
Those prisoners were protesting against the authorities’ move to curtail drug smuggling into the facility.