Navy Clashes with Rebels, Country Prepares For Wednesday’s Election
COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (AP) _ The navy said it killed at least seven Tamil rebels in a sea battle today, one day before presidential elections that will determine whether Sri Lanka pursues peace talks with the insurgents.
Election officials distributed ballots and policemen armed with assault rifles escorted officials to polling booths to prepare for Wednesday’s elections. Bomb disposal squads were on alert.
On Oct. 24, a suicide bomber killed opposition presidential candidate Gamini Dissanayake and 55 other people at an election rally. The government suspended peace talks with rebels after the attack, which police suspect was carried out by Tamil Tiger rebels, who have been fighting for a homeland in the north and east since 1983.
In today’s battle, military officials said three rebel boats were intercepted as they were about to attack a naval landing craft in the Bay of Bengal.
Two sailors were wounded in an exchange of fire and two rebel boats were blown up. Seven bodies of rebels were later recovered.
The two main contenders Wednesday are Prime Minister Chandrika Kumaratunga, who launched negotiations with the Tigers last month and wants them to continue, and Dissanayake’s widow Srima, who wants to halt the talks.
Thousands of people jammed train and bus stations today in the capital, Colombo, to return to their towns and villages to vote.
Meanwhile, Colombo’s only independent television news station blacked out British Broadcasting Corp. reports on the campaign. Managing director Nahil Wijesuriya said his station was under government pressure to block the BBC because the reports were seen as giving ″a political advantage to some candidates.″
The governing People’s Alliance Party, which had promised to remove press curbs, has been accused by opponents of using television and radio to promote its candidates.
More than 34,000 people have been killed in Sri Lanka’s civil war since 1983. Tamils make up 18 percent of Sri Lanka’s 17 million people, and say they face discrimination from the Sinhalese, who comprise 75 percent of the population.