By Jason Burke
Sri Lanka is to create a wildlife sanctuary in a swath of heavily mined jungle that was once the stronghold of the Tamil Tigers separatists, an official said today, a year and a half after the country's 25-year civil war ended.
More than 100,000 acres (40,000 hectares) in the northern Mullaitivu district will be used to conserve wildlife, including elephants.
The densely jungled area, which was the setting for key rebel bases during the civil war, is however an unlikely site for a nature reserve.
It was the scene of heavy fighting last year during the final stages of the conflict. Human rights campaigners have claimed that hundreds, possibly thousands, of civilians were killed in indiscriminate bombardments in the last days of the fighting.
Tamil villagers interviewed by the Guardian in Sri Lanka this year confirmed that many non-combatants had been killed as shells fired by government artillery landed among crowded refugee encampments.
Since the end of the war the area – which was under Tamil Tiger rule for much of the past two decades – has remained without significant investment.
However, today a wildlife department official said the area would be declared a sanctuary "shortly" – but first it will have to be cleared of hundreds of thousands of landmines buried by the rebels. Many of these have been cleared by the Sri Lankan army and a range of international NGOs, but it is estimated that 1.5m landmines remain in the country's northern region. More....