Sri Lanka steps up security for funeral of shooting victim

COLOMBO (AFP) - Police and soldiers poured into a village near Sri Lanka's capital Colombo ahead of the funeral on Sunday of a teenager killed by troops during a protest against contaminated water, residents said.

Locals said police were deployed outside the home of the 17-year-old student, who was shot dead on Thursday night when the army fired on unarmed villagers demanding clean drinking water.

"There are a lot of police at the funeral as well as in the neighbourhood," a resident of Weliweriya village who requested told AFP by telephone.

"The army is also still in the area. That is causing a lot of tension."

Akila Dinesh Jayawardena's funeral is due to take place on Sunday afternoon, while relatives of a second victim, who also died from gunfire were yet to decide when he would be buried, residents said.

Police confirmed two people were killed during Thursday's clashes, but the privately-run Sunday Times newspaper said up to six people had died and that authorities were refusing to reveal the total number of deaths.

Criticism by the opposition and rights groups of the army's use of force has mounted since the shootings. Private television networks have broadcast footage of troops opening fire at unarmed residents.

The military said it has appointed a five-member board of inquiry to probe the allegations against the troops.

The shootings come ahead of a visit to the island by the UN rights chief Navi Pillay later this month.

The independent Lawyers Collective on Saturday condemned the crackdown against the protest to demand clean drinking water for thousands of residents of Weliweriya.

"Evidence clearly establishes that deplorable levels of force, including live bullets, were used on the unarmed villagers," the Lawyers Collective said in a statement.

"The legal fraternity urges the government to control its military and ensure that they are used for legitimate purposes only."

Local media rights group, the Free Media Movement, said security forces also launched an "inhuman attack" against journalists covering the protest on Thursday, beating up some journalists and smashing cameras.

Locals in Weliweriya, 20 kilometres northeast of Colombo, were protesting against runoff from a rubber glove-making plant that they say has polluted their groundwater supply.

Dipped Products Ltd, a publicly listed company, said on Sunday they were not responsible for the pollution but were cooperating with the authorities to carry out tests.

Mr Pillay is due in Colombo on August 25 on a five-day visit in connection with allegations that Sri Lankan troops killed up to 40,000 civilians in the final stages of an ethnic war with Tamil rebels in 2009.

Sri Lanka has denied that its troops were responsible for killing civilians or committed any war crimes, but EU lawmakers last month urged Colombo to ensure accountability in the face of what the UN calls "credible allegations".

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