May 28, 2006

Eight tourists feared dead in Sri Lanka park blast

COLOMBO (Reuters) - Eight Sri Lankan tourists were feared
killed after a suspected land mine exploded as they were
tracking wild elephants in a national park near Tamil Tiger
rebel territory, an official said on Sunday.

Another group of Sri Lankan tourists in the park heard a
large blast deep inside the park on Saturday, and went to the
site to find a jeep in a ditch and body parts on the road, but
police, military and wildlife officials were still on the way
to the site.

"We believe that including our interpreter, eight people
have been killed -- all locals," Dayananda Kariyawasam,
director general of the Wildlife Department, told Reuters from
the fringes of the Wilpattu National Park wildlife sanctuary in
the northwest of the country.

"Another group of tourists heard the blast and went to see,
and informed that they have seen parts of the bodies and
vehicle parts," he added.

The blast occurred around 50 km (30 miles) from the park
entrance, and search teams waited until daybreak on Sunday to
head to the site to avoid encountering wild animals in the

It was unclear whether the suspected land mine dated from
before a 2002 ceasefire that halted a two-decade civil war
between the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), or whether
it was newly planted.

The northern border of the park is around 15-20 miles from
the southern border of the rebels' de facto state in the north
and east of the island.

"It could be an old land mine, but I seriously doubt that
since there was a tracker (checking the route)," said

The incident, which Kariyawasam said would be the first
mine blast to hurt tourists inside a Sri Lankan national park,
comes amid a surge in attacks and clashes between the military
and the rebels that some fear could spiral into all-out war.

The Tigers, who analysts say have focused recent attacks on
the military and government officials, were not immediately
available for comment on the incident.