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Sri Lanka military accused of backing ruling party

Updated at: 09/10/2013 4:35 PM
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(AP) COLOMBO, Sri Lanka - Sri Lanka’s main ethnic Tamil party has accused the military of campaigning on behalf of the ruling coalition in provincial elections in the country’s former northern war zone. The military denied the allegation.

The Tamil National Alliance, a front-runner in the Sept. 21 Northern Provincial Council elections, said soldiers have threatened some of its candidates and have erected posters promoting candidates from the ruling United People’s Freedom Alliance.

"In this background and otherwise, it is clear that there cannot be a free and fair election if the military continues its interfering presence in the Northern Province," party leader Rajavarothayam Sampanthan said in a letter addressed to President Mahinda Rajapaksa.

"It has thus become imperative for me to ask you to relegate the army and the other security forces to the barracks immediately and leave the maintenance of law and order in the hands of the police," Sampanthan said in the letter, dated Monday.

Military spokesman Brig. Ruwan Wanigasooriya rejected the allegations, saying they were baseless.

He said soldiers have not been involved in any election campaigning and the military has been supporting reconstruction work in the north since the end of the country’s quarter-century civil war in 2009.

Sri Lanka has faced rising international criticism for failing to demilitarize the north since government troops crushed separatist Tamil Tiger rebels, who were fighting to create a separate state for minority Tamils.

The ethnic Sinhalese-dominated government announced elections in the north amid intense international pressure that it share more powers with Tamils.

United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay, who recently visited Sri Lanka, said she heard complaints in the north of missing relatives in the war, intrusive military control of civilian affairs in education, agriculture and tourism, and acquisition of private land for military camps since the war.

The Tamil party was considered a proxy for the rebels during the war. Since their defeat it has abandoned separatism.

(Copyright 2013 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)