Firecrackers and gunfire from a beachside hotel in the southern town of Tangalle illuminated the sky celebrating the birth of Christ.
As the world celebrated this joyous day, the lifeless body of a British national lay in a pool of blood at the Nature Resort premises in Medilla, Tangalle, while his Russian partner lay unconscious on the beach, her clothes in tatters.
Khuram Shaikh Zaman, (32) who managed to survive as a physical rehabilitation manager, of the International Committee of Red Cross in the Gaza Strip, died a brutal death in Sri Lanka, while on holiday in Tangalle.
|Tangalle: A scenic beach stretch
Zaman, a Salford University graduate from Minrow, Rochdale, Manchester who provided prosthetics for those who had lost limbs in the war torn Gaza Strip, died on Christmas eve trying to rescue a local restaurant owner who was being beaten up by a local politician and some of his intoxicated supporters.
As Christmas day dawned, celebrations continued at the resort with about 60 people on the dance floor, both tourists and locals. Among the locals was the 24 year-old Chairman of the Tangalle Pradeshiya Sabha, Sampath Chandra Pushpa Vidanapathirana.
Denegama Vitharana Ryan Akalanka (27), the man Zaman had attempted to rescue as a group of people including the Chairman started assaulting him said, “I am an owner of a nearby resort. I came to this place to meet a friend and was there for about an hour. While leaving I knocked against a man who was drunk. He started assaulting me followed by others with flower pots and bottles”.
“The foreigner tried to push aside those who were assaulting me,” he said.
“I managed to escape and run onto the beach. Sadly, in the morning when I came to pick up my motor cycle that I had left behind I heard that the man who came to my rescue had been killed,” he said.
According to eyewitnesses, Zaman’s partner, a 23-year old Russian national Victoria Alexandrovna was assaulted and dragged onto the beach. She was later found with her clothes torn on the beach side.
She was first admitted to the Matara hospital and then transferred to the Intensive Care Unit of the Karapitiya Teaching Hospital in Galle with severe head and bodily injuries.
Villagers say that when she was found her clothes were torn. “The Russian national was admitted with head injuries as a result of assault and underwent surgery at the Intensive Care Unit. After the surgery she was transferred to a private hospital in Colombo,” Dr. Jayampathi Senanayake, Director Karapitiya Teaching Hospital said.
When questioned whether the 23 year-old had been molested, Dr. Senanayake refused to comment stating that the medical reports would be submitted to courts.
Police are however probing claims that one of those who accompanied the politician had either molested or raped the young woman.
|The circled areas show the number of bullets found at the scene of the crime
|After the killing: A blood-stained pool side at the resort
The body of Zaman was sent to Matara Hospital where the post-mortem examination conducted by Dr. H.T.K. Wijeweera revealed that the deceased had been attacked with a sharp weapon and shot. An automatic rifle had been used but the victim had died due to excessive bleeding caused by a slit in the throat.
Photographs taken at the scene of the crime, show blood stains around the pool area.
Eight men, including the main suspect, Tangalle Pradeshiya Sabha chairman surrendered to police. The Criminal Investigation Department has taken over the investigations.
The Pradeshiya Sabha Chairman, his private secretary Mohottige Saman, Nalagama Pradeep Chaturanga, Saman Deshapriya, Obada Arachchige Lasitha, Niroshan Weerakoon, Manoj Prasanna and Buddhika Pradeep are among those in custody. Those suspects were produced before courts and remanded until January 6.
Police Media Spokesman SP Ajith Rohana said, police had recovered a T56 used at the scene from a temple premises in Vitharandeniya, a village in Tangalle.
Deputy Economic Development and Tourism Minister Lakshman Yapa Abeywardena addressing the media on Thursday assured that investigations would be conducted in a transparent manner.
“Those who committed this crime will be severely dealt with even if a ruling party politician is involved. The government will not protect those involved in this crime,” he said. “As a Party we condemn the killing and believe that politicians should act more responsibly. As the opposition is split we have no problems with it, it’s our own party people who cause great inconvenience to the government. A politician has no right to keep unauthorized weapons in his possession,” he said.
Meanwhile acting British High Commissioner, Robbie Bulloch told the Sunday Times that they saw this as an ‘extremely’ serious incident and wanted it investigated thoroughly. “The External Affairs Ministry has given us the assurance that investigation will be taken forward and action will be taken against those involved in the crime. As this is an isolated incident we would not make any changes in our travel advisory,” he said.
He said the High Commission had grave concerns as close to 100,000 British tourists arrive in the country annually.
Mr. Bulloch said the High Commission had contacted the victim’s family in Rochdale, Manchester and that the body was at a private funeral parlour in Colombo.
|Khuram Shaikh Zaman: The victim
The victim’s brother Nasir, (40) told the Manchester Evening News, "The job he was doing took him to some dangerous places – and he was living in Gaza – so there was no concern about a holiday in Sri Lanka. He had been there on a break earlier this year and talked about how beautiful it was."
The brother will be travelling to Colombo to help take back his brother's body with the help of the Red Cross and the Foreign Office.
“The ICRC is grieved by the loss of Mr. Khuram Shaikh, who was killed while he was on vacation in Sri-Lanka and the ICRC is in touch with Mr. Shaikh's family to provide the necessary psychological and administrative support,” a spokeswoman for ICRC, Colombo, said.
She said the ICRC was liaising closely with the relevant authorities- the British High Commission, the Russian Embassy, funeral directors and Mr.Shaikh's family to ensure the speedy transport of his mortal remains to his family in Britain.
Udayanga Weeratunge, the Sri Lankan Ambassador in Russia said that the government had contacted the family of the Russian girl, presently being treated at a private hospital and offered to fly in the family members to Sri Lanka. The hospital expenses will be handled by Sri Lanka Tourism, he said.
Mr. Weeratunge said bout 20,000 Russians had traveled to Sri Lanka this year.
The incident in Tangalle sparked off immediate reactions with some of the tourists leaving the south while those involved in the trade voiced concern.
The South is a favourite destination for tourists not only for its picturesque beaches but also for its relatively cheap accommodation. In a recent analysis this winter by UK’s Post Office Travel Network of day-to-day holiday costs in 28 long-haul destinations, Sri Lanka was listed as the least expensive.
By December 23, a total of 819,500 tourists had arrived in the country. The income generated from the tourism industry in 2011 was 760 million US$ and the target is one billion US$ in 2012, the Sunday Times learns.
“Britain sends over 105,000 tourists and they spend about 100 US$ a day and stay longer than Indian tourists contributing more to the economy,” said Anura Lokuhetti, President of Sri Lanka Hoteliers Association,
|Tim Fiege:A disapointed tourist
|| Lakshman Yapa Abeywardena
He said at present 140,000 locals were directly and indirectly employed in the tourism sector and the target for 2016 was to employ about 500,000. “The Government has taken a lot of measures to popularize tourism by improving infrastructure and promotional events. Tourism is seen as the highest foreign exchange generator. This incident will certainly tarnish the image of the country,” he warned
He said it was also important to educate the local community on the importance of tourism.
“We get many complaints from tourists about harassment. We have to make sure that our people do not put undue pressure on tourists visiting the country. Authorities should ensure tourists safety and promote security which we have been doing since the end of the war,” he said.
Southern Tourist Hoteliers Association President Priyankara Wickremasekare said there were many community-based tourist resorts in the south that need to be monitored. “Tangalle was considered as a popular destination among tourists who come here for long stays. In Unawatuna, Hikkaduwa and Tangalle we see locals mingling with tourists, these kinds of incidents will definitely affect their trust,” he said.
He said that the Tourist Police did not operate in these areas that are known holiday destinations.
Chamber of Tourism and Industry condeming the attack on the British tourist in Tangalle said that such incidents would badly affect the industry which was fast developing to be one of the main foreign exchange earners to the economy.
President A.M. Jaufer in a statement said the killing of a tourist could only jeapordize the image of the country as a tourist destination. Hence it was the bounden duty of all the citizens to support the government in its efforts.
“We appreciated the immediate steps taken by the Government and officials concerned to bring to book those responsible for the attack. The Tourist Police Force too should be strengthened,” he said,
Keerthi Wedaarachchi, President Tangalle Tourist Hoteliers Association, which represents 48 registered hotels and resorts and 20 unregistered hotels said, they fear that this incident may affect the tourism industry in Tangalle.
|The body of the slain tourist being taken to Matara Hospital.
Pix by Mangala Weeraskera and Krishan Jayaruk
“Tangalle has about a 10 kilometre beach stretch where tourists can walk while enjoying the ocean view. But these kinds of incidents can damage the industry. A similar incident took place in Rekawa in Tangalle 10 years ago where a tourist was shot. Today the hotel is closed and tourists still fear to go to the area,”he said.
Tim Fiege, a German tourist who was in Tangalle when the incident took place has decided to leave the premises after the shooting. “I will be leaving this country with much disappointment as Sri Lanka was known for its hospitality. What happened was brutal. This news was also broadcast in British and German media. It is such a shame that a politician from the same area was involved in the killing of a tourist,” he said.
Gamini Edirisooriya, hailing from the South has been a tourist guide since 1983. “Tourists are afraid to stay on in Tangalle to celebrate the New Year. The government should ensure the safety of the tourists,” he said.
Rukman Wedaarachchi (40) a manager at a resort in Tangalle said, “This year saw an increase in German, British, French, Italian and Russian tourists. After this incident many tourists left our hotels,”he said.
A van driver from the area A.K.P.Ruwan Kumara (38) said he began as a three-wheeler driver but after the end of the war since there was an increase in the number of tourists to Tangalle, he decided to get a van.
H.Vijitha a cook at one of the resorts said, that he usually earned around Rs. 25,000 during the season but this time I feel I won’t earn as much during the New Year season.
Sexual harassment of foreign women on the increase
By Chris Kamalendran
A string of incidents where tourists were sexually abused or harassed were reported from various parts of the island in recent months with the latest two incidents coming from Negombo.
On Thursday night five youth who attempted to molest a 23-year-old Swedish national were arrested by Police.
The tourist was taking a walk on the beach at night when a group of young men had attempted to drag her away but she had screamed prompting people in the area and police to intervene.
The youth were warned by courts and released on Friday. The foreigner did not want to file a case.
The incident came a week after two Italians were beaten up in the same area while they were returning to the hotel they were staying in.
They had been surrounded by about eight youth and badly assaulted in the Ethukala area, Negombo.
Paradise Beach Hotel General Manager, E. Croos told the Sunday Times that the two guests were staying at his hotel at the time of the incident and the attackers even entered the hotel lobby and attacked one of the tourists at the lobby.
“Beach traders and touts are the main culprits involved in these kinds of incidents. The main reason for this kind of unruly behaviour is that there are many who sell liquor without licence in the area,” he said adding that the police and authorities should be more vigilant.
Last month a woman from New Zealand had been harassed in Mihintale. Her husband had been away when two youth had attempted to drag her into a public toilet.
They were arrested and remanded.
Two months ago a South African tourist was raped by a room boy in a hotel in Kalptiiya. But since the foreigner had left the country Police said they were unable to proceed with the case.
|An unlicenced pub in Etukale, Negombo
Tourist Police Director SSP Ranjth Padmasiri told the Sunday Times that they were short on manpower. He also said that they held a discussion with the Tourism Authority on preventing any violence against tourists.
“One of our main problems is that we do not have enough personnel to deploy at tourist haunts and only handle direct complaints,” he said.
Tourist Police officer
arrested on rape
In an ironic twist a police officer attached to the Tourist Police in the Kalutara district was arrested recently and produced in courts for allegedly raping a local woman.
The OIC had reportedly arrested the woman who was with two other men on the beach and had taken them to the Police Station.
After questioning the two men they had been allowed to leave, while he had allegedly taken the woman to his rest room and raped her.
The woman, a 28 year old mother of two had lodged a complaint with the Aluthgama police.
The case was due to be taken up on January 4 in the Kalutara Magisrate Courts.