The Sunday Leader

Weliweriya! People Speak Out

By Raisa Wickrematunge

The photograph of a grieving mother as she looks on her young son lying in a coffin has been imprinted in everyone’s memory- the terrible aftermath of what people are already calling ‘Black Thursday’ when the military opened fire on protesters in Weliweriya, killing at least three people. As the island watched the events unfold in horror, The Sunday Leader turned to civil society, lawyers and politicians from the area to hear what they had to say on the tragedy.
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Nizam Kariyapper,

General Secretary, Sri Lanka Muslim Congress
We are all concerned about this incident. Why was the army called in, when there have been so many similar incidents? The army getting involved in such situations is not good.

The police could have handled the situation. The army is not answerable to anyone, and this leaves us exposed to international inquiry and questioning. It’s not good for the country. So we have to see who is responsible for deploying the army to solve a matter like this.

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Ruwan Wijewardena, UNP Gampaha District

The villagers in Weliweriya and Rathupaswala have been telling the Government to do something about the problem of acidic water for a long time. Many of them said it was the fault of the Hayleys factory there. When the regulations were not met, they felt they had no other way of showing their displeasure than going on the road. They only wanted to block the Kandy road in peaceful protest. By the time the Army was sent in, the protesters had decided to disperse, but someone instigated the incident.

There needs to be an independent investigation to tell the country what happened, and who gave the order to resolve it in this way. The situation escalated and instead of the riot squad the army was sent in. The people fought back and weapons were fired as a warning, but instead the shots went towards the crowd, and three were found dead. The military then went into houses, picking people up and beating them.

It is an absolute lie that the protests were politically motivated. The protesters were on the road asking for clean water, there was no politician involved. These people had grievances, they were just asking for clean water and the Government failed to provide it. There are so many injured and three dead, one of whom was supposed to sit for his A Levels examination tomorrow. The Government has to take the full blame for what happened.

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Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith,

We are deeply distressed about the unfortunate situation that happened in the Weliweriya area with regard to the drinking water problem at Rathupaswala recently.

Already 3 innocent lives have been lost due to this incident, and a few others have been warded in the hospital with serious injuries. On this occasion we wish to express our deepest condolences to the parents who lost their children and we pray that the Lord may grant them his consolation and strength. We also pray that those who are injured may recover soon.

We…do not accept attempts to resolve questions by taking the law into one’s own hands and causing disruption to the people’s normal way of life, or by using ones power in a repressive manner to suppress protests, even if they get out of control.

For every question, the best way out is peaceful dialogue. We cannot approve, under any circumstances, the attack on unarmed civilians during a demonstration, and wish to condemn such behaviour unreservedly.

We wish to condemn unhesitatingly the attack carried out by some elements of the Forces on people who had sought refuge at St. Anthony’s Church in Weliweriya. It is a sacrilege for anyone to enter such sacred precincts with arms in their hands, and to behave in a violent manner there. It is always necessary that we preserve the sanctity of the sacred premises of any religion and respect the people who enter such premises seeking protection.

Hence, we firmly request the Government and the authorities responsible to conduct an impartial and just inquiry into the incident where innocent people were killed and actions contrary to the sacredness of a church were carried out, and we request that those found guilty be punished without consideration of rank or status.

We also wish to invite all those who are affected and the people in the area to be calm and patient as the noble teachings of our religious beliefs calls us to do.
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Dr Nimalka Fernando, Attorney and Member of Democratic People’s Movement in Sri Lanka

I’m just returning from a visit to Weliweriya, and met with the mothers of the two dead students. Listening to their stories and those of the community is shocking.

I am not surprised that the Government has used the military in this manner, because we have already seen similar issues. I see some commentators expressing shock and dismay – but this is how they treat peaceful assembly. Roshen Chanaka was killed, fishermen were killed, and the Grease Yaka incidents where people were dragged out of their houses while sleeping and tortured by the military in a similar manner.

The villagers peacefully demonstrating have the right to ask for drinking water, and had been making representations to the authorities and religious leaders for over a week.

Action should be filed against the factory – it is an ecological disaster in Sri Lanka, how a company dumped waste into the soil – the same soil President Mahinda Rajapaksa kissed to celebrate the defeat of LTTE terrorism.
Instead of providing a solution, the military was deployed to attack the citizens of this country.

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Ven. Gnanasara Thero

In the wake of Black Thursday, one group in particular took centre stage – the Bodu Bala Sena (BBS). Speaking to The Sunday Leader, Executive Committee member of the group Dilantha Withanage said that General Secretary of the movement, Ven. Galagodaththa Gnanasara Thero had visited the Weliweriya area prior to the protest march that turned sour, and had realised that there was the possibility of a clash.

“We don’t know anything about how the protest happened… as we didn’t organise it, nor were we involved in any way,” Withanage said.  However, Withanage said that several residents and eventually, a couple of monks had called the group, saying that they would like them to intervene and stop the mounting tensions in the area.

On July 30, Ven. Gnanasara Thero had received phone calls from more worried residents, asking that he and the BBS get involved in the matter, Withanage claimed. Gnanasara Thero had been in Mahalwarawa at the time. He had travelled to Weliweriya and visited the factory which was supposed to be poisoning the water, and spoke to officials in the area, looking to come to a practical solution.

The people working in the factory had agreed willingly to close down temporarily until proper investigations had been carried out, to find out if there was indeed a problem with the water, Withanage said. Gnanasara Thero had discussed a temporary solution with officials in the area, suggesting that food and water be provided as dansals for a couple of days, since the schools were closed for the holidays. It was agreed that this would be the best solution, and Gnanasara Thro had then gone on to Mahiyangana for a BBS rally there.

However, Withanage claimed that the General Secretary had noticed that some of the residents did not want peaceful discussion. Rather, they were determined to hold demonstrations, demanding for their right to clean water. He had further observed that the villagers were divided among themselves and had no clear leadership, which could lead to problems where external elements could easily take over the planned protest.

“When we organise events, sometimes such things happen as well,” Withanage said, citing a BBS rally in front of the Bangladesh Embassy as an example. As such, he claimed, Gnanasara Thero had felt there could be clashes in the area, and he had been committed to finding a solution. However he had never called the military to intervene in the protest, Withanage insisted.

Despite all his misgivings, the General Secretary had still decided to leave the area and head to Mahiyangana, and claimed to have heard news of the clash much later.

The BBS were not connected to the monk in the area who had gone on a death fast in order to highlight the issue (he later stopped fasting after some agreement was reached with the authorities).
Withanage added that anyone had the right to organise whatever activities they wished.
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Dr Prathiba Mahanamahewa, Dean, Faculty of Law, Kotelawala Defence University and Human Rights Commissioner

The Human Rights Commission on Monday, August 5 invited 26 state institutions to conduct discussions with regards to chemicals which had been mixed with water in Weliweriya, after demonstrations in the area.

Twenty four institutions took part in the discussion. This was the first round of talks – the discussion was on the water chemical composition and why there had been delay in action with regard to this.

On Friday, five senior officers visited Weliweriya to look into whether there had been human rights violations in the area. They visited the police station, the hospital, the Church and Government organisations such as Pradeshiya Sabhas, and prepared a preliminary report. We invited 26 institutions; it was not a summons, but an invitation to a discussion to understand the issues.

A Technical Committee was appointed, which will submit a report in two weeks. We also spoke with the Central Environmental Authority, the Water Board and the Water Resources Board, and in the end they said they will contribute to this technical report.

I can’t comment (on the military violence) as we are waiting for the technical report. However we called on residents and priests for discussions, and we listened to what state institutions and civil organisations in the area had to say as well. We decided that there will be a second round of discussions after we see the technical report. The second discussion will also involve civil organisations, NGOs, INGOs, citizens of the area and priests.

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Suresh Premachandran, TNA MP

The people in this country have a constitutional right to agitate for their essential needs.

In this instance, some people agitated for clean water. The Government was not in a position to resolve it.

The situation was supposed to be handled by police. The army was brought in, and now there are so many who are dead or wounded.

It is almost military rule, with the army taking to the street to resolve matters when they get out of hand. This sort of thing only happens on TV. Using live ammunition was unnecessary, but this is how the Government is. They have to realise this is wrong.

Things like this only took place in the North and East. Now it’s happening in the South also. Those who believe in democratic conduct would not allow such actions to take place. The Chief of the Opposition has to take it up.

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J C Weliamuna, Senior Attorney-at-Law

There are three things to be considered. One is, the military can’t be called to disperse civil protests. That is the law. The military engaged in non military exercises. Whoever gave the order to the military to shoot live bullets must be held accountable

The Government always says that Opposition politicians were behind such protests, but the politicians are entitled to do that – they are entitled to mobilise people. The Government should not be worried by that, they must address the issues.

From the material, it is clear that this is murder, which is a grievous offence in law. The military which opened fire on those civilians in Weliweriya should be charged with murder. TNA MP Dean, Faculty of Law, Kotelawala Defence University and Human Rights Commissioner Realised A Clash Was Imminent In Weliweriya: Withanage
Archbishop of Colombo NP MP, Gampaha District

9 Comments for “Weliweriya! People Speak Out”

  1. Each and every citizen of this country should know why the Army was sent to the scene. Who did order the army to go and stop the protest. In a democratic country people have the right to protest in peaceful manner. According to eye witnesses there were no trouble and the protest is not politically motivated. When the Army went in things went out of control. Who ordered the Army to shoot??? President should publically inform the public. I don’t believe in Commission. All these days when the Tamils were beaten up by the Army the Defence Secretary said they were terrorists. The whole Sri Lankans now know the truth..

  2. k.soysa

    Innocent blood calls for vengeance. Sooner or later, things are really going to get out of hand. There has been so much wanton blood-shed in our very Buddhist nation that these days are comparable to genocides in Cambodia and some African nations in the 1960s and 1970s. What is the use of ‘pirith noolas’, poojas, shutting down bars and liquor services on Poya days, stopping the slaughter of cattle etc if we regard human life with so little love?

    As a believing Christian, I can say that there is a verse in Genesis that says, “Innocent blood calls for vengeance”, and “Vengeance belong to the Lord”.

    Every day, there are major disturbances in the country. Dear people, this is not good. Pray for the leadership of our country, The President and all his Ministers that they will be led by the Lord God in the affairs of State.

  3. Malin

    When sluice gates at Mavil Oya was shut depriving water for hundreds of families, where was the TNA MP Suresh P?

  4. Henry Leto Vanstraten

    This was clearly a breach of law: judicial murder for which the military authorities should be held to account.
    The soldiers are trained to obey orders as all soldiers everywhere are. So an enquiry should concentrate on the question who called in the army and what instructions the men were given. Then, who ordered them to shoot to kill. This man or men should be courtmartialled and dismissed from the army.
    A chemical examination into the quality of the water could easily be conducted, but should be conducted by a body independent of the government. If the factory is anyhow responsible for its poisoning, operations should stop until the matter is solved and compensation paid to all the people who have been affected.
    My condolences go to the bereaved families and the injured. As always their loss can’t be made undone… but the law should demand from the government to make a public announcement of guilt and make amends by paying a vast sum as compensation to these families as well as to those who have been injured. Finally the government must assure the public that such an incident will never happen again. Though it may be small consolation to the victims, only then their deaths and injuries have not been in vain and may change the country for the better.

  5. saudmohammed

    Ven. Gnanasara Thero, in one of his statements sometime ago had said that he had noticed the protesters camping on both sides of the road by laying mats and mattresses. He is alleged to have said that he felt a breakdown of law and order was imminent and that he advised the authorities to send the army. Since Ven. Gnanasara Thero has the blessing of the Defence Secretary for whatever acts committed by the Badhu Bala Sena, the Defence Secretary would have promptly acted on Ven. Gnanasara Thero’s advice and sent the Army. Therefore Dilantha Wijetunga now saying that Ven. Gnanasara Thero never called the Army is a travesty of truth.

  6. Jagath

    It looks like he (Prathiba) doesn’t have a back bone to stand his own and give his thoughts regarding the incident. Another government puppet that doesn’t have his own conscience may be blind and dead.

  7. gamarala

    Brutality in the northeast since soon after independence has now come down south.

  8. dagggy

    Quote Ruwan Wijewardene M.P – By the time the Army was sent in, the protesters had decided to disperse, but someone instigated the incident.

    WHO WAS THAT SOMEONE WHO INSTIGATED THE INCIDENT MR. WIJEWARDENE???

  9. The situation at Weliverya has revealed that the country must seriously call upon the Government and Parliament to reduce the political offices at the local level. This will not only concentrate responsibility on a responsible few, and even more, save expenditure at the political level for the greater benefit of Sri Lanka. .I do hope and pray that those who are able and the media will emphasize on this change at this critical stage when Weliveriya has exposed the need for such..

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