For press freedom by Sunanda Deshapriya
16 Jun 2011/ Reuters
Jaffna, Sri Lanka, June 16 (Reuters) – Sri Lanka’s main ethnic minority Tamil party on Thursday said the military had attacked its campaign events in the former war zone in the north to create a climate of fear ahead of the first local government polls in 26 years.
Legislators of the Tamil National Alliance (TNA), which backed the now defeated Tamil Tiger rebels, said supporters were chased away at a meeting in the main town of Jaffna by the military at the start of the first election campaign for 52 local bodies in northern district.
The July 23 polls are the first local government elections in the former war zone in 26 years due to a three-decade war.
“Despite our security guards telling them that we are members of parliament, around 30 military personnel in their uniforms attacked with batons,” E. Saravanabawan, a Jaffna district Tamil legislator told Reuters.
“This is designed to create a fear psychosis among the Tamils to prevent them from attending our election campaigns.”
Saravanabawan said the TNA had lodged a complaint with police at Thellipalai. A police officer confirmed to Reuters that there had been an incident and they had received a complaint.
Two other TNA legislators and three people who were at the meeting confirmed the incident. But Military spokesman Ubhaya Madawela said he was not aware of such an incident.
“There is no point in holding elections if there is not a level playing field,” said Keerthi Tennakoon, spokesman for Campaign for Free and Fair Election, a non-government organist ion which monitors polls in the island nation.
“This proves that there is no environment for people in the north to exercise their political rights freely. There is a semi-military administration in north. The government has a responsibility to allow to have a free and fair election with equal playing field.”
Since the end of the war in May 2009, Sri Lankan government has said it has been doing its maximum to restore normalcy and the current military ruling will be replaced by civil administration in a gradual manner.
However, Northern TNA parliamentarians have complained of violence against minority Tamils, which along with mistreatment by successive ethnic majority Sinhalese governments since 1948 independence from the British colony led to a 25-year civil war.
The conflict that ended with the total defeat of the rebels, who fought for a separate state in the country’s north and east, killed more than 100,000 people and Sri Lanka government is now under heavy pressure by the United Nations and Western nations to set up an independent probe into war crimes committed during the conflict. (Reporting by N. Parameswaran in Jaffna and Ranga Sirilal in Colombo; Writing by Shihar Aneez; Editing by Jon Boyle)