Gunfight at Sri Lanka's biggest prison kills 27

Sat Nov 10, 2012 2:09am EST
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By Ranga Sirilal

COLOMBO (Reuters) - At least 27 people were killed and a senior police officer seriously wounded in a gunfight in Sri Lanka's biggest prison that began when police came under fire from inmates, officials and police said on Saturday.

The army brought the violence under control before dawn and freed staff held hostage at the Welikada prison in the capital Colombo, jail officials and military said.

Twenty seven people have been confirmed dead, prisons minister Chandrasiri Gajadeera told parliament.

The violence erupted when officers from the Special Task Force (STF), Sri Lanka's elite police commandoes, were searching the jail for drugs and illegal mobile phones.

"When they were coming out, prisoners started to attack them with stones. The STF used teargas and the prisoners fired at the STF," Police Spokesman Prishantha Jayakody said.

Witnesses said they saw police shooting towards the jail, where armed prisoners were on the roof during the clash.

Prisons Commissioner P. W. Kodippili told Reuters that the prisoners had obtained the weapons - some of them machineguns - by breaking into the prison armory.

"The search operations are continuing to clear the place and recover the weapons and also to find the escapees," he said,   Continued...

Police officers investigate a damaged three-wheeler after a clash between the Special Task Force (STF) and prisoners at Welikada prison in Colombo November 10, 2012. REUTERS/Stringer