Sri Lanka army 'harassed Tamil voters', observers say

File photo: voters at a polling station during the northern provincial council election in Jaffna, Sri Lanka, 21 September 2013 It was the first time provincial council elections had been held in the north

Sri Lanka's military intimidated and harassed voters and opposition candidates during northern regional elections, foreign observers say.

The government and military compromised the environment in which the vote was held, Commonwealth observers said.

But they praised organisers for the conduct of polling, which the Tamil opposition won by a landslide. The military has rejected the allegations.

Polling for the north's semi-autonomous council came after years of ethnic war.

The opposition Tamil National Alliance (TNA) won 30 seats in the 38-member Northern Provincial Council, which took place four years after the army defeated Tamil Tiger rebels.

However, the run-up to the election was marred by allegations of army intimidation that were firmly denied by the authorities.

"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 on Tuesday.

"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.

However, it applauded the "determination and resilience of voters" who nonetheless turned out to vote, and praised the electoral commission's organisation of the poll as "impressive".

Meanwhile, the head of a team of South Asian poll monitors, N Gopalaswami, told the BBC that he was "101% sure that military personnel were involved" in an attack on the house of a female Tamil opposition candidate a day before the polls.

In an email to the BBC, military spokesman Brig Ruwan Wanigasooriya rejected the claims.

He said the allegation of military involvement in the attack was made "by politically inclined people".

"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."

He added that the 68% voter turnout in the elections showed that the military had not acted as an obstacle to voters.

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