Sri Lankan army opens fire on people protesting against MNC for contaminating their water; three killed

12 villages in Gampha district were demanding closure of Hayleys' subsidiary, Dipped Products

By Ankur Paliwal
Published: Tuesday 06 August 2013

Three people have died so far in the clashes between the army and civilians in the Weliweriya village in Sri Lanka. Four others are said to be in critical condition in the Colombo National Hospital. The deceased along with others were demanding closure of a glove making factory which they allege is causing water pollution in the area when army opened fire on them last week. 
Residents of around 12 villages started protesting on August 1 in the Weliweriya area in Gampaha district against the glove making company, Dipped Products, located in Rathupaswala. They were demanding closure of the company. When no help came their way, protesters blocked the Kandy-Colombo main road for several hours. As a result, heavy security was deployed in the area. Soon a small scuffle between the army and protesters turned into a big mayhem and army opened fire on the protesters. 

An unofficial curfew has been declared in Weliweriya and a power black out followed. Telephone transmission which was cut is still to be completely restored. Military personnel are combing the area in search of leaders who organised the protest.

Spiritual leader goes on fast

The chief of the Galoluwa Buddhist Temple, Siridhamma Thero, went on fast unto death after talks held with the authorities to resolve the matter failed.

Sri Lanka-based environmentalists have condemned the high handedness of the authorities. Hemanta Withanage, head of the Centre for Environmental Justice, threw more light on the incident. “On the surface, the protest is a water conflict. People were just demanding clean water for their daily consumption and to close down the factory. When we go deeper, it is an issue of exploitation of a common good by a corporate giant and a business tycoon for corporate interest. The military was serving the businesses indirectly against public interest,” he said. The affected people are living in rural areas and totally depend on well water. There are no piped water facilities. The factory has released acidic effluent which has made the groundwater acidic, he added.

According to media reports, Gotabaya Rajapaksa, secretary of the Defence and Urban Development department, after a discussion with the representatives of the protesters, has assured them clean drinking water supply. Meanwhile, Ranjith Marasinghe, superintendent of police of Gampaha, has filed a petition in the Gampaha magistrate’s court, seeking a legal recourse to control the situation. The case is scheduled to be heard on August 22.

Colombo Crime Division and Sri Lanka Army are conducting separate investigations into the incident. The new army commander, Daya Ratnayake, has appointed a five-member committee to investigate the incident. The report is expected in two weeks. 
Meanwhile, a statement issued by the Dipped Products, a subsidiary of Hayleys Group, has said that it is not responsible for the water contamination in the area. The company exports its products to around 70 countries across the world.

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