Sri Lanka army accused of harassing, intimidating Tamil voters (PHOTOS)


Foreign observers said on Tuesday that the Sri Lankan army harassed and intimidated Tamil voters and attacked supporters of a Tamil candidate during a key election.

"We learned that opposition candidates and their supporters, as well as voters at large, faced instances of intimidation and harassment," the Commonwealth Observer Mission to the elections wrote in its preliminary findings.

"The freedom to hold campaign meetings and openly interact with the electorate was restricted," the report said, adding that the "heavy presence and influence of the military" also compromised the electoral environment.

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It did, however, applaud the "determination and resilience of voters" who turned out to vote regardless, and called the electoral commission's organization of the poll "impressive."

While the Tamil opposition won the election by a landslide, reports from foreign election monitors have also emerged saying that there is evidence of the military being involved in an incident that forced a Tamil candidate to flee when a dozen armed men surrounded her home the night before the Saturday election.

Some of her supporters were hospitalized after being beaten up during the attack in Jaffna, north of Colombo.

"I am 101 percent sure the army was involved in that attack," said N. Gopalaswami, a former chief election commissioner of India and head of a South Asian monitoring team.

Gopalaswami also said the military directly campaigned for national ruling party candidates by distributing leaflets and discouraging Tamil voters from going to the polls.

Sri Lankan military spokesman Brig Ruwan Wanigasooriya rejected the allegations, saying the claim that the military was involved in the attack on the Tamil candidate was made "by politically inclined people" and that the 68 percent voter turnout proved the military had not been an obstacle to a free election.

"The military was not involved in any of the electoral processes," he said. "The allegation that the military was a 'significant obstacle to a credible electoral process' is baseless."

The accusations against the military come as dozens of world leaders are preparing to attend a Commonwealth heads of government meeting in Colombo in November. Canada has said it is boycotting the event over human rights concerns.

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