COLOMBO (AFP) – Sri Lanka’s election commission said Wednesday it is investigating claims that troops are being deployed in the Tamil-dominated north before a closely-fought presidential vote that has already been marred by violence.
Chief election commissioner Mahinda Deshapriya said there had been complaints security forces were deploying in the northern Wanni region, in contravention of election laws.
Wanni was part of the war zone where Tamil separatists fought the army in a decades-long conflict that ended only five years ago.
“I have already taken this up with the army commander, who says he has not ordered troops to deploy,” Deshapriya told reporters on the eve of the bitterly contested election.
“I have been told that there had been ‘stand-by orders’ given to send the army to police stations and other vital institutions.”
President Mahinda Rajapakse, who is standing for an unprecedented third term, is widely loathed by the country’s minority Tamils.
Both local and international poll monitors have expressed fears that the authorities will try to prevent Tamils from voting after the main Tamil political party backed opposition candidate Maithripala Sirisena.
The independent Centre for Monitoring Election Violence (CMEV) on Tuesday accused the ruling party of tolerating “flagrant violation of election laws” and said opposition party offices had been targeted.
The CMEV, which is deploying more than 4,000 monitors across the country, said it had documented 420 incidences of violence since the election was announced on November 20.
It said the Tamil-dominated northern district of Jaffna was worst hit.
The Tamils make up the largest minority in the island, and may be the deciders in Thursday’s election if, as appears likely, the majority Sinhalese vote is split between Rajapakse and Sirisena.
There have been some reports of an increased military presence in the area.
An international poll monitor who asked not to be named told AFP he had to intervene to secure the withdrawal of troops from a roadblock in the Wanni region on Wednesday.
Deshapriya said the security forces had no role in the elections and police were capable of protecting 49 counting centres and 12,314 polling booths, at which 15 million people are eligible to vote.
He said police had been ordered to “shoot in the head” if anyone tried to disrupt the election.
Police have said that 65,000 officers armed with an automatic assault rifles are being deployed around the country.