US concerned over Sri Lanka military killings

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (AP) — The United States has expressed concern over the Sri Lankan military’s fatal shooting of three civilians and attack on people seeking protection in a church during a recent protest demanding clean drinking water.

In a statement dated Friday, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said “there was no excuse for violence, especially in a house of worship.”

Residents of the town of Weliweriya, northeast of Colombo, and surrounding villages protested Aug. 1 against a factory that allegedly discharged toxic waste, polluting drinking water.

Church authorities and witnesses said the military shot at unarmed protesters, killing two teenagers and a 29-year-old man. The Roman Catholic Church condemned the military for attacking civilians who sought refuge inside St. Anthony’s Church during the crackdown.

“We call for a thorough and transparent inquiry into all aspects of the Weliweriya violence, for those conclusions to be made public, and for there to be a credible mechanism to prosecute any wrongdoing,” Psaki’s statement said.

Government ministers blamed a third party for instigating the protesters to provoke soldiers, and said the troops acted in self-defense after being hit by rocks and gasoline bombs.

The government often blames unnamed third parties or foreign governments wanting a change in government of being behind public protests.

New York-based Human Rights Watch said in a statement that the government’s “knee-jerk reaction” is to deny responsibility.

“Instead of promoting the military’s version of events, the government should order an independent investigation and prosecute anyone who violated the law,” the rights group’s South Asia director, Meenakshi Ganguly, was quoted as saying.

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