Sri Lankans in former war zone to go to polls on Sep 21

Sri Lankans in former war zone to go to polls on Sep 21

COLOMBO - Residents of Sri Lanka's former war zone will go to the polls in September in a regional election expected to hand limited autonomy to minority Tamils, it was announced Thursday.

The voting will be held on September 21 during a nine-hour period, a spokesman for the Election Commissioner told AFP.

It will be the first-ever election for the Northern Provincial Council and Tamils are expected to win. The area's capital Jaffna was the centre of a de facto state run by Tamil separatist rebels during the 37-year ethnic war.

Elections for two other councils elsewhere in the country will also be held on the same date.

President Mahinda Rajapakse's ruling coalition had promised to share limited power with Tamils through a local council after the military crushed the rebels in May 2009.

The councils in the north and elsewhere were established in line with an agreement with neighbouring India, which promised to rein in Tamil separatists on its soil provided Colombo's Sinhalese majority share political power with Tamils.

Although the government agreed to hold polls, it has moved to strip some powers from the councils, citing national security concerns should Tamils win.

Sri Lanka adopted a de facto federal system in 1987 but never held elections in the Tamil-dominated north, which continued to be ruled directly by the president.

Councils have, however, been functioning in Sinhalese-majority areas that Rajapakse's party controls.

Sri Lanka is under international pressure to promote ethnic reconciliation and investigate allegations of war crimes by its forces in the final stages of the war.

It has denied allegations that up to 40,000 civilians were killed during the bloody finale.

The UN estimates that up to 100,000 people were killed during the whole of the conflict.

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