Jaffna: Tamil voters in northern Sri Lanka are set to elect their first ever semi-autonomous council on Saturday, in a post-war power-sharing exercise already marred by allegations of army intimidation and harassment.
The poll is being held with Sri Lanka`s President Mahinda Rajapakse under international pressure to allow a fair vote for the Provincial Council in the once strife-torn region which was a former stronghold for the Tamil Tiger separatist rebels.
The Tigers were crushed by a Sri Lankan military onslaught in 2009, which remains dogged by war crimes allegations, and the army maintains a heavy presence throughout the region of about a million people.
"It is clear that there cannot be a free and fair election if the military continues its interfering presence in the Northern Province," the leader of the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) party, R. Sampanthan, wrote in a letter to Rajapakse on Monday.
He asked for the army to be confined to their barracks for the election.
The Tamil Tigers, which held sway over a third of the country at their height, fought for a homeland for the ethnic Tamil population in Sri Lanka which is majority Sinhalese Buddhist.
Many Tamils complain they are treated as second-class citizens and face discrimination and Saturday`s vote is seen as crucial in reducing ethnic tensions.
The 36-member Provincial Council will have no powers to address major local grievances which include war crimes allegedly committed by Sri Lankan troops or the issue of thousands of missing people.