All weapons to be withdrawn from prisons

By Norman Palihawadana

The Defence Ministry has decided to withdraw all firearms in the possession prison officers. This follows the Welikada prison riot, early this month, during which prisoners broke open one of its armouries and helped themselves to about 90 assault rifles and pistols.

Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa told The Island that he had formally directed the prison authorities to hand over all weapons.

In the November 11 riot, prisoners, having armed themselves after breaking into an armoury, retaliated against the Police Special Task Force personnel, who carried out a search of the prison for contraband. During the riot, the head of the STF, Deputy Inspector General of Police Chandrasiri Ranawana and several other commandos and army personnel were injured. The exchange of fire also killed 27 prison inmates and wounded many more.

During the war against the LTTE, the Defence Secretary said he was opposed to prison officers being armed with automatic weapons. The handling of an assault rifle, like the T-56, had to be done with care as any mishandling could result in the loss of innocent lives.

But, a prison officer, who did not want to be identified, said they needed the firearms for their self defence.

Prisons are said to be having thousands of weapons at present. Though nearly all weapons taken from the prison armoury were later recovered by the army in a clean up operation. carried out the following early morning, three guns still remain missing.

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