Vol. 5 Num 514 Mon. November 07, 2005  

LTTE to stay neutral in Lankan election

Sri Lanka's Tamil Tiger rebels have decided to remain neutral in the presidential election this month, a pro-rebel website reported yesterday as minority Tamil voters emerged as potential king-makers.

The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) will not pressure minority Tamils to take part in or to boycott the November 17 election, C. Ilamparithi, a leader of the LTTE based in the northern city of Jaffna, said on the Tamilnet website.

"The LTTE will not exert any pressure on Tamils on this issue," he said.

The LTTE's political wing leader S.P. Thamilselvan told AFP in a recent interview that they were uninterested in the election because all majority Sinhalese leaders of Sri Lanka had let them down in the past.

However, Thamilselvan said they would not interfere with the election and invited candidates to campaign in large parts of the island's northeast held by the rebels.

Sri Lanka's minority Tamils are concentrated in the embattled northern and eastern provinces and their vote becomes crucial if the majority Sinhalese community splits between the two main contenders.

Opposition leader Ranil Wickremesinghe is campaigning on a promise to push talks with the LTTE and revive a Norwegian-backed peace bid while Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapakse's main plank is a complete overhaul of the peace process.

Some 650,000 minority Tamils voted almost en bloc to elect 22 Tiger proxies to parliament at the April 2004 elections.

However, private poll monitors have expressed fears that escalating violence in the troubled regions could scare away the voters and a low turnout by them could favour Rajapakse.

There will be no polling in rebel-held areas, but the election authorities have arranged transport from rebel territory to polling booths in government-controlled areas.

Both the prime minister and the opposition leader made separate visits to the main military garrison in the Tamil heartland of the Jaffna peninsula last week, but stopped short of travelling outside the high security zone.

Security officials said both were advised that it was too risky. The LTTE maintains a shadowy presence in the region even though security forces wrested control of Jaffna in December 1995.

The two sides have observed a ceasefire since February 2002. But Scandinavian monitors reported that over 190 people had been killed in violence related to the conflict this year despite the truce.