Police yesterday moved to strengthen security in seven districts where intra-party violence is on the rise. The districts are Anuradhapura, Matara, Badulla, Nuwara Eliya, Gampaha, Kandy and Puttalam.
The move came as 59,000 policemen and 20,000 troops were deployed countrywide for Thursday’s polls.
The police have so far received about 265 complaints and nearly 200 people have been arrested for allegedly flouting election laws. The police are searching for 160 suspects who are said to have broken election laws and are evading arrest.
Police Elections Desk Chief Gamini Navaratne said they had beefed up security in areas where they believed more clashes might erupt. “Our desk is trying to work with the local police in areas where election violence is increasing. We are trying to intensify security there and bring the situation under control. There are reports of inter-party violence and police are doing what is possible to curb this,” the senior DIG said.
He said the police had also questioned some candidates as part of the efforts to identify suspects who had broken election laws.
In addition, the police had appointed a special officer to assist the Returning Officer in every district and any complaints could be made to those officers who had full powers to take action.
According to the Police, a majority of the complaints are cases of intra-party rivalry mainly in the UPFA -- prompting some of the candidates to personally take up the issue with President Mahinda Rajapaksa.
During the past few days, Nuwara Eliya district has been on a powder-keg after two UPFA groups clashed and the police were not able to bring the situation under control till the Special Task Force (STF) was called in.
The clashes erupted last Tuesday when supporters of UPFA candidate C.B. Ratnayake were allegedly assaulted by a supporters Central Provincial Council chairman Saliya Bandara Dissanayake at Udawatha Kumbura in Hanguranketha.
Mr. Dissanayaka is not contesting, but backing a UPFA candidate put forward by Wimal Weerawansa’s NFF.
Previously an armed gang associated with the CWC allegedly attacked the homes of five members of the rival National Union of Workers (NUW) at the Ramboda Estate in Nuwara Eliya.
On Friday UPFA Puttlam District candidate Sanath Nishantha was arrested after he was alleged to have led an armed mob that attacked fellow candidate Minister Neomal Perera’s son on Wednesday night. Mr. Nishantha was subsequently remanded until tomorrow.
In the meantime a dangerous trend of election observers being targeted by political groups has also been reported. A formal complaint has been made to Elections Commissioner Dayanada Dissanayake and Police Chief Mahinda Balasuriya of an incident where an election monitor belonging to the Center for Monitoring Election Violence (CMEV) was allegedly assaulted by UPFA supporters.
The election monitoring body CaFFE has also alleged that a UNP supporter had assaulted one of its officials at who was on election duty in Kurunagala last week.