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Last Updated: Tuesday, 11 March 2008, 12:20 GMT
Ex-Tamil Tigers win local polls
Voters in a suburb of Batticaloa
The island's main opposition party boycotted the polls
A group of former Tamil Tiger rebels has won a landslide victory in the first elections to be held in eastern Sri Lanka for more than 10 years.

The Tamil Makkal Viduthalai Pulikal party (TMVP), set up by renegade Tiger leader Col Karuna, won every local council in and around Batticaloa city.

Human rights groups have accused the TMVP of waging a campaign of violence ahead of the voting.

The TMVP helped government forces drive the rebels out of the region last year.

Sri Lanka's government says it now wants to hold wider provincial elections and introduce limited devolution to address Tamil demands.

TMVP party logo
The TMVP logo replaces the Tigers' crossed guns with shaking hands

The TMVP won more than 70% of the vote in a peaceful poll on Monday.

Its founder, Col Karuna, was sentenced to nine months' imprisonment by a UK court in January, on charges of identity fraud.

Correspondents say that nominally he still leads the party, although it is reported to be divided as to whether he should remain in place.

In the elections in Batticaloa town, the TMVP ran under the banner of the island's ruling alliance.

The group broke away from the rebels in 2004, before turning on their former comrades to help government forces drive them from the east.

Boycott

The TMVP president, who goes by the nom de guerre of Pillaiyan, told reporters that his group still has guns for security.

He also admitted that there were 30-40 former Tamil Tiger child soldiers still in his ranks. He said that livelihoods had to be found for them before they could leave his group.

Human rights groups and opposition politicians say that a climate of violence and chaos has tainted the election.

Much of the violence has been blamed on the TMVP, who have been accused of demanding protection money from businessmen and routinely killing people.

Security personnel carry ballot boxes to polling stations in Batticaloa
Security was tight for the elections

Rasiah Thurairatnam, who ran as an independent candidate in Batticaloa, told the AFP news agency that people "voted out of fear" for the TMVP.

He alleged serious irregularities by Col Karuna's supporters at many polling stations.

"This is a victory for violence, and it will elicit serious repercussions from the people," he said. "I see this as a license for extortion and child abduction."

The island's main opposition party boycotted the elections in protest over what it said was the atmosphere of intimidation surrounding the vote.

In January the government pulled out of a formal commitment to a 2002 ceasefire with the Tamil Tigers, arguing the rebels had used it to re-group and re-arm.

Since then, fighting has intensified on the frontlines that surround Tiger-held territory in the north.



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