Sri Lanka to hold vote for Eastern provincial council

March 14, 2008 (AFP) – Sri Lanka on Friday announced plans to hold provincial council elections for the first time in two decades in a former stronghold of Tamil Tiger separatists.

Commissioner of Elections Dayananda Dissanayake said he would receive nominations for the Eastern Provincial Council for a week from March 27. Voting was expected to be held within two months.

The councils were established in line with a 1987 plan to grant greater autonomy to the ethnic Tamil minority concentrated in the island’s north and east, but collapsed because of subsequent fighting.

A government spokesman said the decision to go ahead with the ballot was taken following the peaceful conduct of smaller municipal and village council elections in the eastern district of Batticaloa on Monday.

Sri Lanka’s government has offered to revive the 1987 devolution plan in a bid to address minority demands for greater autonomy, but even moderate Tamils supporting the administration have rejected it as too little.

Government forces drove Tamil Tiger rebels out of the east in July last year and are now locked in combat with the separatists inside the de facto mini-state run by the Libera