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34 killed in the north on eve of polls

world Updated: Mar 10, 2008 15:51 IST
DPA
DPA
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Nine soldiers and at least 25 Tamil rebels were killed in clashes in northern Sri Lanka as the country's eastern region held its first elections in 14 years, a military spokesman said.

The clashes in the north Sunday were reported as one civilian was killed and six school children were injured when a parcel bomb exploded in Sri Lanka's capital on Monday.

The bomb, placed inside a flowerbed in the centre of main Wellawatte road, 6 km south of Colombo city centre, went off opposite a boy's school.

"We believe that the terrorist (rebels) set up the bomb targeting civilians," military spokesman Brigadier Udaya Nanayakkara said.

Nine soldiers and the 25 rebels were killed in four separate incidents in northern Wanni district Sunday.

In the east, where elections are being held for the first time in 14 years after the area was brought back under control of the security forces from the rebels a year ago, some 40 percent of the voters had turned up by noon.

A breakaway faction of the Tamil rebels was the main group contesting the elections while its main rivals are three former militant groups who were contesting as an independent group.

For the Batticaloa municipal council the breakaway group of the rebels, known as the Pilliyan group, was contesting under the country's ruling party's name - the United People's Freedom Alliance (UPFA).

The elections are seen as a boost to the image of the government, which has declared its intention to recapture rebel-controlled areas and hand over power to the people in the area.

Military operations are on in the north to recapture rebel-controlled areas, but progress has been slow with both rebels and security forces suffering casualties.

The rebels stepped up their attacks on security forces three weeks after the incumbent President Mahinda Rajapaksa was elected to power in November 2005 and five months later the government also stepped up operations, effectively bringing an end to a Norwegian-backed cease-fire which came into operation in February 2002.