Former Tamil Tiger rebels win Batticaloa municipal election
Mon March 10, 2008 16:42 EDT .
Associated Press Writer
BATTICALOA, Sri Lanka (AP) _ A group of former Tamil Tiger rebels won the vote Monday in a key east Sri Lankan municipal council election, the first in 14 years, the island's state television reported.
Karuna Group, which had teamed up with President Mahinda Rajapaksa's ruling coalition, polled more than 53 percent votes in the election for Batticaloa Municipal Council and returned 11 members out of 19, according to reports based on details released by the elections commissioner.
Edwin Krishnanandaraja, known better by his rebel nom de guerre Pradeep Master, a former member of the Tamil Tigers' educational division, is tipped to become mayor of Batticaloa.
The group has been named after the Tamil Tigers' former eastern commander who broke away from the mainstream rebels in 2004.
After the breakup, Karuna Group helped government forces drive away the Tigers from the Eastern Province last year and the government saw the election as a first step toward restoring order in a region long dominated by the rebels.
However, the group has been accused of forcibly recruiting children into its militia, demanding money from businessmen and a wave of abductions and killings.
In the lead up to the poll, human rights groups accused Karuna Group of forcing popular community leaders to run on its ticket and feared widespread intimidation and malpractice could take place.
However election observers the voting took place peacefully with more than 56 percent of the votes cast.
Hoping to prevent violence during the voting _ especially a rebel attack _ the government flooded the area with police. Soldiers armed with assault rifles stood guard every few meters, checking vehicles on the near empty road leading into town, while other troops patrolled in armored personnel carriers.
The city and surrounding villages looked deserted with most people coming out just to cast their votes. Police frisked all voters thoroughly before allowing them into the polling stations.
Rajapaksa said the vote was a crucial step in the effort to restore normalcy here after the government drove the Tamil Tigers from the region last July after months of fighting that displaced tens of thousands of people. The rebel group maintains a de facto state to the north.
Violence, much of it blamed on Karuna Group has plagued the area since then.
Krishnanandaraja said, however, that the militia had just entered the ``democratic stream'' and hoped to disarm ``gradually.''
He dismissed widespread allegations that his group forcibly recruited children into its militia, extorted money from businessmen and was behind rampant violence and killings.
Human rights groups and opposition parties said the election was irredeemably tainted by the climate of violence.
The country's main opposition United National Party and the main regional party, the Tamil National Alliance, boycotted the election, saying they would not run against armed groups.
The Tamil Tigers have been fighting since 1983 for an independent state in Sri Lanka's north and east for minority ethnic Tamils, who were marginalized for decades by governments dominated by the Sinhalese majority.
Before the group split it drew most of its fighters from the impoverished eastern villages.Discuss this story
Published: Mon Mar 10 20:48:28 EDT 2008