Sri Lanka jail riot ‘injures 31’ in Colombo

At least 31 people have been injured in clashes between guards and rioting inmates at a prison in the Sri Lankan capital, hospital officials say.

Most of the injured are prisoners who were shot by guards. Police deny claims that three inmates were killed.

Several buildings were set alight in the remand wing of Colombo’s main prison before order was restored.

Prisoners say they want better food and conditions. Police said inmates were angry at moves to curb drug smuggling.

The head of Sri Lanka’s prisons department admitted that the treatment of prisoners in the jail fell short of acceptable standards.

A local resident told the Associated Press news agency that disturbances had been going on for several days.

Wounds ‘not serious’

Throughout Tuesday smoke billowed from the Welikada (Magazine) prison as dozens of inmates demonstrated on the rooftops. Some held up a banner calling for the head of the prison to be removed.

The BBC’s Charles Haviland says the air outside the jail was acrid with tear gas and smoke – inside the barrier gate the prison is teeming with police and armed military.
Guards carry an injured colleague to safety during riots at the main prison in Colombo on January 24, 2012. Several guards were also hurt in the clashes

Ambulances have been taking the wounded to Colombo’s National Hospital. A senior staff member there told the BBC that 26 inmates and five officers were being treated, although the injuries were not serious.

The prisoners had gunshot wounds, mostly below the knee. The officers had head or leg injuries after being assaulted.

Earlier, one of the inmates told the BBC Sinhala service that three prisoners had been killed when officers at the gates shot at a large group in the compound.

The deaths are unconfirmed and exactly what happened is unclear.

Police spokesman Ajith Rohana said gunfire and tear gas had been used after prisoners rioted over new regulations.

“The new prison administration have launched a massive programme in order to curtail the drugs inside the prison and apart from that to prevent drugs going inside the prison,” he said.

“I think this is the reason for this protest.”

But the prisoners said the new rules in fact banned food from outside.

Later the head of the prisons department told BBC Sinhala that the treatment of the prisoners was less than ideal and that this would be corrected.

Prisons Commissioner PW Kodippili said food had been sent in but there was no immediate confirmation of this from the prisoners.

He also said that 180 remand prisoners suspected of links with the Tamil Tigers had now been transferred to another jail.

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