COLOMBO, Sri Lanka – Sri Lanka's president promised Thursday to hold provincial council elections next year in the island nation's former northern war zone.
President Mahinda Rajapaksa's pledge comes amid international criticism that he has failed to devolve power to the northern region since the nation's quarter-century civil war ended in 2009. The majority of the region's population are minority ethnic Tamils.
While presenting the government's annual budget in parliament Thursday, Rajapaksa said the government remained "firmly committed to conduct (northern) provincial council elections next year, to facilitate democratic representation to promote peace and development."
Sri Lanka has faced international criticism for failing to hold provincial elections in the north despite Rajapaksa telling visiting dignitaries that the polls would be held and that the region would be given more autonomy. International rights groups and foreign countries have also urged the government to demilitarize the north now that the war is over.
The war ended after government forces defeated the Tamil Tiger rebels, who were fighting to create an independent Tamil state in the country's north and east.
In his budget speech, Rajapaksa said "the government has implemented many development initiatives" in the north, where "access to electricity, education, water and health facilities is improving rapidly."