The government has thrown a security blanket over the coastal area, a former hotbed of factional fighting, pouring in nearly 6,500 security personnel.
Under morning showers, large numbers of people turned out clutching national identity and polling cards, despite accusations of murder and intimidation during the campaign to elect a dozen councils.
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"Voting is going on peacefully and about 30 percent of the voters have cast their ballots within the first two hours. There are no known incidents," said Kingsley Rodrigo of People's Action for Free and Fair Elections (PAFFREL), a private monitoring group.
The Colombo government has touted the polls as a chance to win the hearts and minds of ethnic Tamils and Muslims, after security forces wrested control of the region from the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) eight months ago.
But UN and human rights groups have accused Colombo of turning a blind eye to the pro-government Tamil People's Liberation Party (TMVP), a breakaway group whose