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War-Scarred Sri Lankan Tamils See Hope in Election



Jaffna, Sri Lanka, 21 September 2013: Ethnic Tamil voters in Sri Lanka's war-ravaged north went to the polls Saturday to form their first functioning provincial government, hoping it is the first step toward wider regional autonomy and a cornerstone to prevent another cycle of violence. They have fought for self-rule for more than six decades since independence through a peaceful struggle and then a bloody civil war, but failed.

However, Saturday's elections are expected to give them a limited say in their own affairs — a taste of democracy after decades under rebel or military control. The elections are seen by the United Nations and the world community as a crucial test of reconciliation between the Tamils and majority ethnic Sinhalese, who control the government and the military.

"Our political problems must be resolved, another generation must not be destroyed," said Rasathurai Balasubramanium, a 56-year-old mason after voting in his village Thavadi. "We believe that there is a ... (slice) of democracy and law and order is still available in this country," said Gunaratman Manoharan, a 52-year-old businessman who traveled from the capital, Colombo, to vote.

The country's ethnic divisions widened with the quarter-century civil war that ended in 2009, when government troops crushed the Tamil Tiger rebels who fought to create an independent state.

At least 80,000 people were killed and northern cities, including many in Jaffna peninsula, were reduced to rubble.

The Tamil National Alliance, considered a political proxy for the Tamil rebels during the conflict, is the favorite to win the election and has fielded a former Supreme Court Justice, C.V. Wigneswaran, as its chief candidate.

More than 700,000 voters are registered to elect 36 members to the provincial council, which will not have much power. A governor appointed by the central government retains almost all of the control, and Wigneswaran says if elected his party would lobby for wider self-rule based on federalism.

But the central government is against devolving such wide powers and says even existing powers in provincial hands, such as those over land and policing, are a threat to the country. It hopes to win over Tamils by rebuilding roads, schools, hospitals and other infrastructure destroyed in the war.

The U.N. welcomed the election in a statement, calling it an "important opportunity to foster political reconciliation."
The U.N. has called on Sri Lanka repeatedly to more thoroughly investigate war crimes committed by both sides. A U.N. report has indicated Sri Lankan troops may have killed as many as 40,000 Tamil civilians in the final months of the conflict. The Tigers are also accused of killing civilians, holding them as human shields and recruiting child soldiers.
Source: AP




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