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TNA justifies poll postponement in SL

The pro-LTTE alliance said polls had to be put off in Lanka for the sake of peace, reports PK Balachandran.
None | By PK Balachandran, Colombo
PUBLISHED ON MAR 23, 2006 04:45 PM IST

The pro-LTTE Tamil National Alliance (TNA) is justifying the postponement of elections to the local bodies in the Tamil-speaking North Eastern Province saying that it had to be done to keep the peace process on track.

"Election violence at this juncture will have derailed the next round of peace talks to be held in Geneva in April," said Suresh Premachandran, a Member of Parliament belonging to the pro-LTTE Tamil National Alliance (TNA).

"We had asked for the postponement citing this possibility," Premachandran told Hindustan Times here on Thursday.

"We had put this argument forward in our meeting with President Rajapaksa," he added.

Earlier this week, the Commissioner of Elections had postponed the elections in 45 of the 70-odd local bodies in the North East on account of the uneasy security situation there, and the inability to deploy the Sri Lanka police in polling booths in the LTTE-controlled areas.

The elections were to be held on March 30, along with polls in the rest of Sri Lanka. But they were postponed to September 30.

In the meanwhile, the LTTE's political advisor and chief negotiator, Anton Balasingham, told an international news agency in London that if the Tamil "paramilitaries" (which he said were in collusion with the Sri Lankan armed forces) continued to attack the LTTE in the North East, the LTTE might seek a postponement of the Geneva talks.

Balasingham wanted these paramilitaries, including a group led by the renegade commander Karuna, to be disarmed before the commencement of the April talks.

In the first round of talks in Geneva in February, the government had agreed to disarm any person not authorised to carry arms.

But it maintained that it had no Tamil paramilitaries and that the Karuna group was but a faction of the LTTE with which it had nothing to do.

Asked if the security situation would be any different in September, TNA MP Premachandran said that it would be hard to predict.

But he added that a part of the problem could be solved if the government amended the local bodies election law to allow polling booths to be located in government-controlled areas so that the Sri Lankan police could be deployed to give security.

As in the parliamentary and Presidential elections, the voters in the LTTE-controlled areas could go to the government-controlled areas to vote, he said.

"It should be easy to amend the election law because it can be done with a simple majority," Premachandran pointed out.

But it remained to be seen if the Rajapaksa government would do this, he added.

In the absence of elections to the local bodies in the North East since 1998, there has been no grass roots level democracy there for long.

When the term of the elected bodies expired in 2002, they were handed over to officials, who have been running them since then.

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