Australia killer hunt threatens tourism

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SYDNEY - Two more bodies were found by police yesterday in Belanglo State Forest, 100km (60 miles) south-west of Sydney, bringing the total up to seven. The previous five have all been identified as young hikers, and the continuing hunt for their killer or killers has cast a shadow over Australia's 'backpacker tourism' industry, worth some pounds 700m a year.

Tour operators say that foreign hikers, the mainstay of the industry, have become cautious about where and how they travel in Australia. Most are no longer prepared to hitch-hike, especially with Australian drivers.

Charlie Cox, manager of a hikers' hostel in Sydney's Kings Cross, where two of the murdered tourists were last seen, said yesterday: 'People aren't stupid. They won't just jump in a car with someone any more . . . they won't go with a person unless they know them, have gone out with them, and usually the driver is another overseas tourist.'

Police investigating the Belanglo killings have reopened the files on many missing persons, including nine hikers. Hikers became nervous about travelling around Australia, previously renowned as a safe destination, after the disappearance of an Italian tourist, Anna Liva, aged 30, from Coober Pedy in South Australia in 1991, tour operators said. She disappeared without a trace, leaving her rucksack and belongings neatly placed on her bed in one of the town's hotels.

The murder of a German hiker, Anne Neumann, aged 22, in Coober Pedy in 1993 effectively took the mining town off the tourist map for hikers. Her body was found down a mine shaft in Coober Pedy and a local miner has been charged with her murder.

In 1992, 166,000 hikers visited Australia, including 48,000 from Britain and Ireland, 26,000 from the United States and Canada and 22,000 from Germany. Overall they spent more than wealthy Japanese visitors because their stays were longer.