Sri Lanka was holding provincial elections amid high security yesterday as government forces pushed deeper into territory held by Tamil Tiger rebels in the island’s north, officials said.
Two out of the nine provinces on the island were voting to elect the highest level of local government in the regions, officials said, adding that more than 25,000 police had been deployed to guard polling booths.
Both provinces going to the polls — North Central and Sabaragamuwa — are not directly affected by fighting between troops and Tamil rebels, but the government has turned the vote into a referendum on its military strategy.
On the night before the voting, the defense ministry announced that troops had captured two strategic towns from Tamil Tiger rebels as they closed in on the rebels’ political capital of Kilinochchi in the island’s north.
With the fall of Thunukkai and Uyilankulam, the military was just 12km south of Kilinochchi, the center of the de-facto state run by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), the ministry said.
There were no immediate reports about casualties from Friday’s fighting.
President Mahinda Rajapakse announced on Tuesday that troops were on the final push to dismantle the LTTE’s de-facto state in the north after the military ejected the rebels from the east in July last year.
The Tigers have tacitly admitted that troops are advancing on them, but have not commented on details of the latest battles.
Tens of thousands have died on both sides since the rebels began fighting in 1972 for an independent homeland for minority Tamils on the majority Sinhalese island.
Defense ministry figures show security forces have killed 6,020 Tiger rebels since January. The ministry says 562 soldiers have died during the same period.
Colombo has scrapped a truce and poured a record US$1.5 billion into this year’s war effort in what it says is an all-out bid to crush the rebels.