Sri Lanka vows polls in ex-war zone but clips council powers

OLOMBO, June 16, 2013 (AFP) – Sri Lanka’s President Mahinda Rajapakse pledged Sunday to proceed with the first-ever provincial polls in the island’s former war zone but his government said the powers of the elected council will be clipped. The councils were established in line with an agreement with neighbouring India, which promised to rein in Tamil separatists on its soil provided Colombo shared political power with the Tamil minority.

Sri Lanka is under international pressure to promote ethnic reconciliation and investigate allegations of war crimes by its forces in the final stages of crushing Tamil Tiger rebels.

It has denied allegations that up to 40,000 civilians were killed during the bloody finale to the conflict. The ruling coalition had promised to share limited power with Tamils, pointing to elections to local councils, after the military crushed separatist Tamil rebels in May 2009 and ended 37 years of ethnic bloodshed.

Rajapakse on Saturday visited the northern district of Kilinochchi, the political capital of the defeated Tamil Tiger rebels, and promised to hold elections as scheduled in September, his office said.

“President Rajapakse, who was in Kilinochchi, said elections to the Northern Provincial Cou