Hours before polling in Sri Lanka for the Presidential elections gunmen opened fire on a convoy of buses carrying minority Muslim voters in northwest part of the country on Saturday, police said.

No casualties are reported so far, but a police official said the attackers had burnt tyres on the road and set up makeshift road blocks to ambush the convoy of more than 100 vehicles.

“The gunmen opened fire and also pelted stones,” a police official in Tantirimale, 240 kilometres (150 miles) north of Colombo said. “At least two buses were hit, but we have no reports of casualties.”

According to the police, Muslims from the coastal town of Puttalam were travelling to the neighbouring district of Mannar, where they were registered to vote.

Police reinforcements rushed to the area and cleared the obstructions on the road and escorted the convoy so that passengers could cast their ballots.
The incident came as police and troops were locked in a tense standoff in the Tamil-dominated northern peninsula of Jaffna where residents complained of military road blocks ahead of voting.

Independent Election Commission was told by the police that the army was illegally manning roadblocks that could discourage residents from freely travelling to polling booths on Saturday.

In a statement , the police said, “After bringing to the notice of the army that the road blocks were illegal at a time of a national election, they have dismantled them.”

Sources at police said that local military commanders have been warned that any disruption to the election would be reported to courts and offenders prosecuted.

Tamils and Muslims, a minority in Sri Lanka are seen as crucial voters to deciding a winner in a close contest between the two front runners — housing minister Sajith Premadasa and the opposition’s Gotabaya Rajapaksa.

According to the local media reports a strong military presence in Jaffna, the heartland of the island’s Tamil minority, could influence voter turnout and favour Rajapaksa, a former defence ministry chief and brother of former president Mahinda Rajapaksa.