Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Sri Lanka bars media from covering local elections

Sri Lanka will not allow reporters into two northern cities to cover the first local elections there since the military defeated the Tamil Tiger rebels earlier this year, the government said Monday.

The government has touted Saturday's polls in the cities of Vavuniya and Jaffna as the first sign of democracy taking root in an area ravaged by the 25-year civil war that ended in May.

The government did not give a reason for banning reporters, but it cites security reasons for denying entry to any outsider.

The two cities are just outside the de facto state the separatist Tamil Tigers ran in the north and were frequent targets of rebel violence. Both cities, where Tamils are the majority, remain surrounded by checkpoints and are accessible only with permission from the Defense Ministry. Even residents can't leave without permission.

Reporters will not be allowed into the cities to report on the elections-the first in the cities since 1998-and will have to rely on government handouts, said Lakshman Hulugalle, the head of the government's security information center.

Despite the ban, ruling party officials have taken some journalists to the area to cover their campaign events.

Nearly 300,000 Tamil civilians who fled the war are still being held in camps near the two cities.

The rebels had fought for a separate state for Tamils after decades of marginalization by governments dominated by the Sinhalese majority. More than 70,000 people died in the conflict.

President Mahinda Rajapaksa has promised a political compromise with the Tamil community after the war.

© 2009 Associated Press.

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Media banned from covering local elections in two northern cities - RSF

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