Parcel bomb explosion kills one as eastern Sri Lanka votes

(dpa) - At least one civilian was killed and four were injured when a parcel bomb exploded in Sri Lanka's capital Monday as the country's eastern region held its first elections in 14 years, a military spokesman said.

The bomb set up inside a flower bed in the centre of the main road in Wellawatte, six kilometres south of the 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.

The four injured are school children.

Traffic into the city from the southern part of the country was diverted due to the explosion and a search was mounted in the area, but police failed to find the person who set up the bomb.

The attack took place as voting commenced in local elections across the eastern part of the country. 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.

Ahead of the polling a Muslim candidate's house came under a grenade attack, injuring a police officer guarding the house in Valachchenai, Batticaloa, 240 kilometres north of the capital.

The elections were being held for nine local councils, including the Batticaloa municipal council, and 270,471 voters were eligible to cast ballots.

A break-away 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 break-away 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).

Rivals have accused the Pilliyan group for carrying out abductions and extorting money, allegations denied by the party.

Journalists who have visited the area have confirmed reports that the group has been abducting residents, intimidated voters and extorted money.

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 in progress in the north to recapture rebel-controlled areas, but progress in the north 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.

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