Eastern Sri Lanka holds election amid allegations of intimidation, voting fraud
Sat May 10, 2008 07:08 EDT .
RAVI NESSMAN - Associated Press Writer - VALAICHCHENAI, Sri Lanka - (AP) A climate of fear hung over Sri Lanka - 's Eastern Province elections Saturday following attacks blamed on the Tamil Tiger rebels and accusations of intimidation against a breakaway guerrilla group that backs the ruling party. The opposition United National Party and its allies in the Sri Lanka - Muslim Congress accused the ruling party of misusing state resources in the campaign and said the TMVP carried weapons during the campaign and threatened voters and candidates.
Kingsley Rodrigo, head of the People's Action for Free and Fair Elections, an independent monitoring group, said the TMVP threatened and intimidated voters across the province on Saturday as well.
``There are many, many violations taking place,'' he said.
Other monitors reported gangs of people traveling between polling stations and voting numerous times in Valaichchenai and other nearby towns.
The gangs presented false identity cards signed by local officials saying they lived in the area, said Sunanda Deshapriya, an official with the independent Center for Monitoring Election Violence.
Opposition observers have been threatened and forced to leave many of polling stations, he said. ``At almost every station (in the area), stuffing is taking place,'' he said.
The former rebels have been accused by residents and international rights groups of waging a campaign of terror, killing opponents, extorting money from businessmen and forcibly conscripting new recruits including children.
In a sign that the violence cuts both ways, a supporter of the ruling coalition, S. Tarek, was attacked by opposition supporters outside a polling station in the town of Eravur, north of Batticaloa, his brother-in-law Mustafa Nazir said. Medical workers said Tarek suffered a broken skull.
Despite the threats and violence, 46 percent of the province's nearly 1 million registered voters had cast ballots by noon, Rodrigo said.
A new round of attacks blamed on the Tamil Tigers cast a cloud over the election.
Suspected rebels bombed and sank an empty navy cargo ship in the eastern port town of Trincomalee early Saturday, but caused no injuries, navy spokesman Cmdr. D.K.P. Dassanayake said.
Rebels fired seven mortar rounds into the village of Pannalgama in the eastern Ampara district, wounding four civilians, including a 10-year-old child, military spokesman Brig. Udaya Nanayakkara said.
The Tamil Tigers have fought since 1983 to create an independent homeland for minority ethnic Tamils, who have been marginalized by successive governments controlled by majority Sinhalese. More than 70,000 people have been killed.
Published: Sat May 10 08:54:41 EDT 2008