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 Post subject: Carnage at Wipattu - 27 May 2006
 Post Posted: Sat Jun 24, 2006 11:47 pm 
Carnage at Wipattu - 27 May 2006
Leopard quest that led to Tiger kill

by Dasun Edirisinghe
@ The Island / 03 June 2006


It is said that in the jungles of Wilpattu, one can be sure of seeing a leopard at any time of day. This was the popular belief of a particular group of nature lovers who visited the Wilpattu National Park last week. They began their quest early last Saturday morning, but, whether they spotted leopards at Kattarambu villu, a famous area for leopard watching, is not known because they never returned. Three powerful land mines connected to each other and buried in the sand blasted them to smithereens that tragic morning.

The group that reached the park on Friday (26) evening consisted of eight persons including two females, all residents of Colombo. Six of them, Darrel Perera, Nihal de Silva, Nandana Abeysuriya, Henrietta Abeysuriya, Chandy Asirvatham, Anula Asirvatham and the Wildlife Department’s tracker Anura Dissanayake died in the blast the following day. Their bodies could not be found and sealed coffins came home after the weekend at Wilpattu.

They had booked the Kokmotai circuit bungalow in the park for the weekend. While two members of the group, their domestic aide and driver Y. Dayarathan and Chamara Sandaruwan stayed back, the others left for the Kattarambu villu, located 15km away from the bungalow and 50km away from the main entrance, on Saturday morning. They are believed to have left at 6.00 a.m., as the park authorities do not permit visitors to leave the bungalows earlier. The group had gone on the tour in two vehicles, a Prado jeep (WP C 4146) and a double cab (58-9783), sources at the Wildlife Department’s Wilpattu office said. On that fateful day, they had travelled in the double cab.

Of those who died, Nihal de Silva was the author of The Road from Elephant Pass that won the 2003 Gratiaen Prize for the best literary work in English published in Sri Lanka. His second book was The Far Spent Day, concerning political violence, and The Ginirella Conspiracy was published in 2005. In April this year, he launched Paduma meets the Sunbird, copies of which he was to autograph in Colombo today. De Silva was an amateur naturalist with a keen interest in avifauna and this first love is reflected in his writing.

Of the others, Darrel Perera was Managing Director and Chairman of Mechanised Business Applications Ltd., Nandana Abeysuriya who was accompanied by his wife Henrietta was at Nisol, and Chandy Asirwatham, industrialist and ruggerite, was accompanied by his wife Anula.

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The explosion is believed to have occurred around 6.10 a.m., as the police have found a watch with its hands frozen to that time. Nochchiyagama police said they were informed about the incident in the evening. Close to noon that day, another group of tourists, visiting the same area, had reported to the nearby police that they had seen the remains of a blasted jeep and some human parts about 40km inside the thick Wilpattu jungles. Fearing danger, they had said they did not approach the scene, police said. Thereafter, over 500 police and Army officials had been sent to the park to investigate.

The severely damaged bodies were recovered on Sunday afternoon by the Army.

Seven people, including the bungalow keeper, minor employees and the two remaining group members who were at the bungalow, left the park from the Wilachchiya side the same day.

According to investigations conducted by the Sri Lanka Army and police officials, the three pressure mines had been placed only the day before. Anuradhapura Senior Superintendent of Police Ananda Hettiarachchi said that on the day prior to the explosion some vehicles had traversed the same route without incident and this clearly indicated that the mines were buried on May 26. Judging by the enormous destruction caused by the explosion investigators believe that each mine could have been 25 to 30 kilos in weight. Meanwhile, some members of the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission who were on their way to the site on Monday (29) were recalled by the SLMM due to the possibility of more bombs in the vicinity. Police firmly believe that the mines were buried by the LTTE.

The Wilpattu National Park, the largest National Park in the country, is located 30km west of Anuradhapura and spans the border between the North Central and North Western provinces. With an acreage of 131,693 hectares the park was upgraded to the status of National Park on February 25, 1938.

This is not the first time that the LTTE has attacked innocent civilians in the park. They attacked and killed 23 wildlife officers, who were working in the park office on May 4, 1985, on their way back after attacking Buddhist monks and civilians at the Sri Maha Bodhiya in Anuradhapura. The park was closed to visitors that year, due to the prevailing situation in the country and the unstable security condition in the area. After 16 years, it was reopened to visitors on March 16, 2003, much to the delight of many nature lovers who had missed out on the natural treasures of Wilpattu during its closure.

Wilpattu has seven circuit bungalows, but only four, Thala Vila, Mena Vila, Manikapola Uttu and Kokmotai are functioning. The Kokmotai bungalow was reopened after renovation in May 2004.


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