COLOMBO, Sri Lanka - Sri Lanka announced Monday it would hold elections for two key town councils in the war-torn north, a week after government forces crushed the separatist Tamil Tigers who ran a de facto state across the region.

In the wake of its victory, the government said it would hold elections across the area as soon as possible.

Local Government Minister Janaka Tennakoon said the government would start with elections to the Jaffna and Vavuniya town councils. Both those areas lay just outside the de facto state the rebels had controlled in the north.

Jaffna is considered the cultural centre of the ethnic Tamil minority on whose behalf the Tamil Tigers fought a quarter-century civil war.

Tennakoon said these would be the first local elections in the area since 1998 and called them "the first step toward ensuring the democratic rights of the people in the north."

The Elections Commission will soon announce the date of the poll.

The government said last week it had killed rebel chief Velupillai Prabhakaran and ended his battle for an independent Tamil state in the north.

President Mahinda Rajapaksa has said he now intends to negotiate a political compromise to address the Tamils' grievances.

The recent war victories have boosted the popularity of Rajapaksa's coalition - the United People's Freedom Alliance - which has swept recent elections for provincial assemblies.