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Sri Lanka probes prison minister for alleged prisoner threat

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (AP) — Sri Lankan police are investigating an incident in which the government prisons minister allegedly threatened to kill two ethnic minority detainees inside a prison, an official said Wednesday.

Lohan Ratwatte, state minister of Prison Management and Prisoners’ Rehabilitation, resigned last week following a public outcry after he was accused of threatening to kill two Tamil prisoners. He was also accused of forcibly entering another prison with his friends to show them the gallows.

Government spokesman Dullas Alahapperuma said a police investigation is underway.

He said Cabinet ministers also discussed the allegations at their weekly meeting on Tuesday and Justice Minister Ali Sabri sought approval to launch a separate investigation headed by a retired judge.

Tamil minority lawmaker Gajen Ponnambalam said Ratwatte summoned the Tamil prisoners in the prison in Anuradhapura, about 200 kilometers (125 miles ) north of Colombo. He “got two of them to kneel in front of him and pointed his personal firearm at them and threatened to kill them on the spot,” Ponnambalam tweeted.

Ratwatte is a member of the Sinhalese ethnic majority. Tamil lawmakers asked the government to arrest him.

The London-based human rights group Amnesty International also called for an inquiry, saying “the minister must be held to account for his actions.”

Separately, local newspapers reported that a government minister had forcibly entered Welikada prison in Colombo with his friends to show them the gallows.

The newspapers did not identify the minister, but the president’s office said Ratwatte acknowledged responsibility for the incidents at both prisons and tendered his resignation to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa.

There was no immediate comment from Ratwatte on the announced investigation.

Sri Lankan prisons are highly congested, with more than 32,000 inmates crowded into facilities with a capacity of 11,000.

A dozen inmates were killed and 100 others injured last November during a riot by inmates at a prison on the outskirt of Colombo.

Tamil rebels fought to create a separate state during a 26-year civil war but were defeated by government troops in 2009.

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