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Blast in zoo in Sri Lanka capital wounds 4

COLOMBO (Reuters) - A crude bomb went off inside a zoo in Sri Lanka’s capital Colombo on Sunday wounding four visitors, the military said, blaming the blast on Tamil Tiger rebels.

A soldier stands guard as bomb disposal unit officers of the Special Task Force inspect the scene of a bomb explosion at a zoo in Dhiwala in Colombo February 3, 2008. REUTERS/Buddhika Weerasinghe

The explosion near a bird enclosure, a day ahead of ceremonies to mark the country’s independence day, was probably aimed at scaring off residents of the capital, military spokesman Brigadier Udaya Nanayakkara said.

“It was an improvised explosive device, this must be to warn the people,” he said.

The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, fighting for a separate homeland for ethnic Tamils in the north and east of the island, were not available for comment. They have in the past denied attacking civilians.

“I was taking the elephants for a bath and I heard a loud noise, I managed to control them,” said mahout Somarathna Banda, adding he saw scores of people running around after the blast.

No animals were hurt in the blast, officials said.

The zoo spread over 25 acres is popular with residents and tourists, especially on weekends when special shows involving the animals are held.

The blast also came a day after a bomb blamed on Tamil Tiger rebels killed 18 people and injured more than 50 civilians in the town of Dambulla in central Sri Lanka.

Fighting between the Sri Lankan military and the LTTE rebels has escalated since the government scrapped a six-year ceasefire last month, saying the rebels were using it to rebuild and re-arm.

Troops killed 46 rebels in clashes in the northern areas of Jaffna, Vavuniya and Polonnaruwa and Mannar in the northwest, the military said, adding it lost two soldiers.

Independent verification of battle casualties is not possible, and analysts say both sides tend to exaggerate enemy losses.

The two-decade conflict has killed an estimated 70,000 people.

Sri Lanka marks the 60th anniversay of its independence from Britain on Monday.