COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (AP) -- Sri Lanka's election chief said Thursday that the first postwar provincial elections in the country's war-torn northern province will be held Sept. 21, more than four years after the end of the island nation's quarter century civil war.
The announcement by the commissioner of elections, Mahinda Deshapriya, follows intense international pressure on the government to share power with national ethnic minority Tamils, who make up the majority in the province.
President Mahinda Rajapaksa had announced last year that council elections would be held in Northern Province, but the date was not set until Thursday.
The provincial councils were set up as a result of an agreement between Sri Lanka and its powerful neighbor India in 1987 in an effort to end Tamil militancy. However, the Tamil rebels rejected the deal, saying the councils' powers were inadequate. The rebels continued their fight until they were crushed by government troops in May 2009, ending the civil war.
The Tamil Tigers, who were designated by many countries as a terrorist organization, fought to create a separate state for Tamils in Sri Lanka's northern and eastern provinces. According to a United Nations report, about 40,000 civilians might have been killed in the last five months of the fighting alone.
After the war, Rajapaksa promised to allow a greater degree of autonomy in Tamil-majority regions in the north. However, he has been criticized by foreign countries and rights groups for failing to deliver on his promises.
The government announced recently that it would scrap land and police powers given to the provincial councils, drawing criticism from opposition political parties and Indian leaders.
Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh expressed "dismay" at Sri Lanka's plan when he met with a group of opposition Tamil lawmakers from Sri Lanka last month.
India has a major interest in the dispute because southern India is home to 60 million Tamils.
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