COLOMBO: Sri Lankan police came under fire Saturday for their failure to act after the gang rape and murder of a teenage girl in the district of Jaffna, as tensions heightened in the former war zone following angry protests over the incident.
Children's Affairs Minister Rosy Senanayake slammed police for their response to a complaint after the 17-year-old student -- identified as Vidya -- went missing in Jaffna last week. Her bruised body was found a day later near her home.
"When the local residents handed over a suspect, the police were still not taking action," Senanayake told reporters at a press conference in Colombo.
The victim had been abducted by four men, later joined by five more, who attacked and then killed her, the minister added.
The case sparked outrage last Wednesday, with hundreds of villagers pelting stones at the police and a court house.
Senanayake said three senior policemen had since been transferred from their stations in Jaffna, pending an internal investigation into the police failure.
Following the protests, police said they had arrested nine people -- one of whom is a man of Sri Lankan origin who had recently obtained a Swiss passport.
But even as the minister criticised the breakdown in law and order, police announced they had obtained a court order banning further protests in the peninsula.
Wednesday's demonstrations marked a rare outburst of public anger since the end of the 37-year-long Tamil separatist war, in which at least 100,000 people were killed between 1972 and 2009.
Police reacted to the protests by firing tear gas and arresting 130 people who took part, sparking more anger across the region, residents said.
"It is not right for people to take the law into their own hands, but we cannot be satisfied with the way the police acted in this case," the minister added.
Senanayake, whose government came to power in January, said there had been a 20 percent increase in the number of cases of violence against women and children in the past two years.
She blamed the crime wave on the inefficient criminal justice system.
"The state has failed to criminalise the criminals," she said, adding that she was pressing the government to fast track all cases of violence against women and children under a special police investigative unit.
"We have (had) tight protection laws since 1995, butobviously the police have failed to enforce the law," she said.
The minister said she was organising a candle light vigil in the capital for Vidya on Sunday.
She said there had also been instances of infants being raped by relatives.
"It is a shameful situation. We want our society to put a stop to this," she said, adding that six rapes were recorded daily across the nation of 20 million people while many more cases go unreported.