Sri Lanka holds provincial polls amid military push

OLOMBO, August 23, 2008 (AFP) – Sri Lanka was holding provincial elections amid high security Saturday 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 eve of voting, the defence ministry announced troops captured two strategic towns from 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 12 kilometres (7.5 miles) south of Kilinochchi, the centre 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 Tuesday that troops were