East Sri Lanka holds historic vote

Batticaloa holds first election in 14 years as bombing kills one person in Colombo.

    Sri Lankans in Batticaloa are electing municipal and local officials for the first time in 14 years [AFP]
    "Our prayer is for calm and no war," Alagaiah Kouindasamy, who was displaced as the Sri Lankan army recaptured areas of the district, said.

    Violence and intimidation

    Former members of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) are expected to win the elections which are being seen as a test of a plan for greater devolution in minority Tamil areas.
    Batticaloa election

    Batticaloa is a Tamil majority area.

    One municipal council and eight local government bodies will be elected.

    6,500 security personnel deployed during polling. 

    UNP, the main opposition, and Tiger-backed TNA have boycotted

    the election.

    The district was under Tamil Tiger control for 13 years.

    Government troops recaptured the area last July.

    However, human rights groups believe elections are unlikely to be free and fair because of violence and intimidation.
    They have also questioned the government's decision to endorse the TMVP, a breakaway faction of the Tamil Tigers led by Karuna Amman, which is now working with the government in Batticaloa.
    The TMVP has been accused of widespread abuses, including recruiting child soldiers, abductions and killings.
    Edwin Krishnanandaraja, also known as Pradeep Master, a political leader of the newly registered party in Batticaloa, is a former Tamil Tiger who joined the rebels as a child soldier.
    He is tipped to be Batticaloa's next mayor, and rejects the accusations of abuses by his group.
    "They are baseless," Krishnanandaraja told the Reuters news agency on Sunday.
    "Our members were being killed. Because of that, we used weapons. When our political right is confirmed, we will hand them over."
    Disarming fighters

    Mahinda Rajapaksa's, the Sri Lankan president, has long-refused to disarm the TMVP, arguing that it could not find weapons on its members.
    Right groups have also accused the state of complicity in the abuses and also believe polls have come too soon.

    "In Batticaloa, not only TMVP, many other armed groups are also there," Kingsley Rodrigo, chairman of the People's Alliance for Free and Fair Elections, the island's main election monitoring body, said. 

    Monday's blast occurred in a mostly Tamil
    neighbourhood in Colombo [Reuters]

    "They are not using arms to campaign, but they have been keeping the arms with them. So I am not going to say this election is a free and fair one."
    However, Palitha Kohona, the Sri Lankan foreign affairs secretary told Al Jazeera that the local elections are a step forward for the area.
    "The government has made its promise, it promised to have elections so that the people could elect their own representatives who will look after their needs in the circles of power," he said.
    "Its never too soon to introduce democracy. It was only after the LTTE took control of certain parts of the east and of the north that democracy became a distant dream".
    A host of other former armed groups who joined the democratic mainstream in the 1980s are also taking part in the poll, as well as the island's main Muslim party.

    But with the main opposition UNP and Tiger-backed TNA boycotting the poll, some say that it election is a farce.

    Your Views

    What will elections mean for Sri Lanka?

    Send us your views

    "We don't expect the leaders to give us anything other than a chance to live in peace. If there is peace, we can work and take care of ourselves," Sinnakutty Nagalingam, a father of three who works as a mason, said.

    "With this situation, if we go out to work, there is no certainty that we will return home."
    Colombo blast
    Hospital authorities say that one person was killed and several wounded, including four school children, in the bomb blast in Colombo's Wellawatta neighbourhood.
    The bomb was hidden in a flower bed on the main Galle highway, Udaya Nanayakkara, a military spokesman, said.
    Officials say the attack bears all the hallmarks of the LTTE but there was no immediate claim of responsibility from the group.
    The government has become increasingly isolated in the international community after it formally scrapped a six year truce.

    Since then it has launched an offensive against the Tigers and has said it plans to defeat the group by the end of the year.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


    Cricket World Cup 2019 Quiz: How many runs can you score?

    Cricket World Cup 2019 Quiz: How many runs can you score?

    Pick your team and answer as many correct questions in three minutes.

    Visualising every Saudi coalition air raid on Yemen

    Visualising every Saudi coalition air raid on Yemen

    Since March 2015, Saudi Arabia and a coalition of Arab states have launched more than 19,278 air raids across Yemen.

    Remembering Chernobyl

    Remembering Chernobyl

    The fallout from the Chernobyl nuclear power plant explosion remains as politicised as ever, 28 years on.