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Sri Lanka ex-war zone to hold vote granting limited autonomy

Sri Lanka ex-war zone to hold vote granting limited autonomy

Colombo: Sri Lanka's Tamil-dominated northern region will hold its first elections for a provincial council that will grant limited autonomy to the former war zone, the president's office announced today.

President Mahinda Rajapaksa told newspaper editors that conditions were right to hold the northern provincial council elections in September more than four years after fighting there ended, his spokesman Mohan Samaranayake said.

"The president said that the environment was conducive for holding the NPC elections in September, but he did not give a specific date," Samaranayake told AFP. "It will be some time in September."

Rajapaksa's remarks were the first public announcement that the government was gearing up for council elections.

Provincial councils were established in 1987 under a law that turned Sri Lanka into a de facto federal state, but the Tamil-dominated north has never elected such an administration although it has had elections for less important bodies.

The government has governed the northern province, whose capital is Jaffna, through direct presidential rule even after troops crushed Tamil separatists in May 2009 in a military campaign that sparked allegations of war crimes.

Sri Lanka is under international pressure to hold council elections to allow the ethnic Tamil minority a degree of autonomy and a greater say in the day-to-day administration in areas where they are concentrated.

The United States, which led international censure against Sri Lanka at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva last month, has said it was looking forward to early council elections in the former war zone and a speeding up of reconciliation.

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