Page last updated at 12:46 GMT, Saturday, 10 May 2008 13:46 UK

Tigers sink ship on polling day

A Sri Lankan soldier stands by a wall covered in election posters in Trincomalee on 9 May
Security forces have been reinforced for the elections

Tamil Tiger rebels have sunk a naval cargo ship in eastern Sri Lanka, hours before important local elections.

The navy said a 65-metre (213-ft) ship was hit by an underwater blast caused by a suicide diver, though no other casualties were reported.

Rebels said the ship had been loaded with munitions destined for Sri Lankan troops operating in the north.

Voting has now closed in Saturday's local elections, the first in the region in 20 years.

The polls follow a government offensive last summer.

Troops drove the Tamil Tigers from their bases in the region, which they had controlled for 13 years.

Thousands of extra troops and police have been deployed to ensure security for the elections in the east coast towns of Batticaloa, Trincomalee and Ampara.

On Friday, at least 11 people died in a bomb attack on a cafe in Ampara, which was blamed on the Tigers. There was no immediate comment from the rebels.

'Sea Tiger' attack

A Sri Lankan navy spokesman, Commander DKP Dassanayake, said the cargo vessel Invisible "sank due to an underwater explosion" at around 0215 local time (2045 GMT Friday).

BBC map

"We suspect the blast was carried out by a suicide diver," he said.

He gave no details of the ship's cargo.

A rebel statement quoted by AFP news agency said "Sea Tiger underwater naval commandos" had attacked the ship just before dawn.

The army blamed the Tigers for the attack on the cafe in Ampara, in which 36 people were also wounded.

Fighting is continuing in the north where the rebels have their main stronghold.

About 70,000 people have been killed since the civil war began in 1983. The rebels want an independent state for minority Tamils in the north and east.

The BBC's Roland Buerk in Colombo says Saturday's vote will lay the foundation for limited devolution that the government says is the answer to Tamil complaints of domination by Sinhalese-led central governments.

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