Colombo (The Island/ANN) - Eleven Sri Lankan inmates of the Welikada prison were killed and at least nine elite police commandos, including Special Task Force (STF) deputy inspector-general R. M. Ranawana wounded, during a riot which broke out while police were carrying out a search operation.
The prisoners threw missiles and fired automatic weapons, which they had seized from the prison's two armouries.
Bodies of nine inmates were recovered and taken to the National Hospital. Six other injured prisoners were trapped inside along with six prison officers.
Prisoners are believed to have armed themselves with 250 assault rifles and 90 pistols in the two armouries, but sources said they had only a limited amount of ammunition.
National Hospital Director Anil Jasingha told The Island last night that the commando veteran had been shot in the stomach and was undergoing emergency surgery at the time of going to press.
Jasingha said there were two others with critical injuries. Among others admitted with injuries were a prison guard, a civilian and an inmate.
Police spokesman Prishantha Jayakody said the injured DIG was out of danger.
Observers said there might have been some inside help as prison security was not very happy with outside units coming into carry out search operations and some guards were known to be doing roaring business by being part of the contraband smuggling process in the prison. Other sources said during the search of the notorious "chapel" ward, where hardcore convicts were being held, the commandos had wanted to place plastic handcuffs on some of the prisoners, but the inmates had objected and hooted. It had led to an argument and a clash. This had sparked the disturbance with the police firing tear gas to quell the riot as more prisoners joined the melee.
By the time the police commandos were leaving the prison the inmates had armed themselves not only with brickbats and other missiles but also several assault rifles, some of which they openly brandished from the roof of the prison till late into the evening. They even exchanged fire with the forces intermittently into the night.
The Welikada Prison remained under the control of prisoners until this edition went to press last night. The rioters had knocked out the power supply and the entire area was surrounded by the military and police to prevent a possible breakout by the convicts.
Earlier, the commando contingent which carried out the operation from around noon had successfully searched the "L" section of the prison without much resistance.
Yesterday's search had been ordered by Prison Reforms Minister Chandrasiri Gajadeera, based on information that contraband items like mobile phones and narcotics were being widely available in prison.
During several similar searches carried out earlier this year mobile phones and even satellite phones were recovered.