Sri Lanka plays down Batticaloa blast toll

[TamilNet, Sunday, 19 September 2010, 01:37 GMT]
Sri Lanka revised down the official casualty figures of a massive explosion Friday that destroyed a police station in the eastern Batticaloa district, from over sixty dead to an official count of 25, but local government officials amongst those who rushed to the site said dozens of bodies from the rubble had been swiftly removed by Sri Lankan forces. Citing negligence, the authorities said later on Friday that two Chinese construction contractors, seven civilians and 16 policemen were amongst those killed when containers of dynamite stored at the Karadiyan-aa'ru police station exploded. Local officials, however, insisted over 60 people, mainly police had been killed. It was not clear why the authorities, who have also ruled out sabotage, were downplaying the blast, they added.

"We are going to clear the site and see if there are any more bodies trapped under the wreckage of vehicles and buildings that were completely destroyed," a local relief official meanwhile told AFP.

He said the death toll was officially placed at 25 based on a body count, but investigators were working to establish whether there were more people missing after three containers of dynamite blew up.

"We completely rule out sabotage. There is no threat to security in that area," military spokesman Maj. Gen. Ubaya Medawala said.

Earlier, Medawula told Reuters: "Sixty people inside the police station have been killed. Most of them are policemen."

The Karadiyanaa'ru police station was completely destroyed as well as several other buildings in the area. Only two policemen in the building had survived the blast, the Sunday Times reported.

The explosion also demolished the nearby Agricultural Department building.

The three containers of dynamite stored in the premises of the police station had been intended for rock blasting by a Chinese company building roads in the district.

The Chinese embassy dispatched officials to visit the region and is said to be conducting its own inquiries into the incident.

Around 100 persons, including Sinhala engineers from the South, wounded in the blast were rushed to the Batticoloa Government hospital and they were treated for burn injuries, police and hospital officials said.

Officials at the hospital have been instructed to remain tight-lipped on casualty details, they told local reporters.

Sri Lankan authorities said 54 people had been wounded.

Ex LTTE members deployed in the construction work under Colombo's much-publicized rehabilitation programme were likely among the victims, a local NGO official told reporters in Colombo.


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