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Sri Lanka to reduce troops in ex-war zone

Sri Lanka’s military said on Thursday that it would eliminate 13 army camps in the former northern civil war zone and give the land back to the original owners, a move that comes ahead of key elections in the region.

Sri Lanka has faced rising international criticism for failing to demilitarize the north since the quarter-century-long civil war ended in 2009 when government troops crushed the separatist Tamil rebels, who were fighting to create a separate state for minority ethnic Tamils.

Troops will be removed from 13 camps in the Jaffna peninsula and the locations, ‘for which the army paid rent, will be handed over to the original owners,’ said military spokesman Brig. Ruwan Wanigasooriya.

The decision marks a change in the government’s stance on demilitarizing the north. President Mahinda Rajapaksa last year rejected international calls to remove military camps in the region, saying his government was not prepared to undermine national security by removing them because remnants of the Tamil rebels remained active.

The move also comes after the government called for provincial council elections in the Tamil-majority Northern Province, once the theater of bloody battles between government troops and the rebels. A date for the vote, the first council elections in the province since the end of the war, has not been set, but it is likely to be in September.
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