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Tourism decries Tangalle tragedy as biggest setback

A shocked leisure industry yesterday decried the deadly attack on tourists in Tangalle over the weekend as the biggest setback for the sector which was rebounding following the end of the war. They urged the Government and law enforcement authorities to ensure harshest punishment against those responsible whilst calling for adequate measures to ensure safety of tourists.

An alleged argument leading to a fracas saw the alleged murder of a British holidaymaker and a brutal attack on his partner, a Russian lady, at a Ceylon Tourist Board registered guesthouse Natures Resort in Tangalle on Saturday.

“Even during the 30-year conflict, we told the world that not a single tourist was harmed. However, it is of serious concern that the first murder of a tourist took place in peaceful times and that too during the winter season. Such incidents can take place anywhere in the world, but the best the Government could do immediately is to punish the culprits and thereby bring back confidence over law enforcement and security,” Tourist Hotels Association President Anura Lokuhetty told the Daily FT yesterday.

“Swift action against those responsible will prove that the Government doesn’t condone such violent acts,” he added.

The main suspect in the deadly incident, Tangalle Pradesheeya Sabha Chairman Sampath Vidanapathirana had surrendered last night after absconding. Earlier three other suspects had surrendered whilst Police and CID found the van in which the suspects fled the area following the incident. The deceased Kuram Shaikah Zaman, a British national of Israeli origin, is an ICRC volunteer working in the Gaza strip. He was 27 years old and his partner Victoria Alexandrovna is 24 years old. They had arrived in Sri Lanka on 17 December. The Russian female partner is receiving urgent treatment for head injuries at Karapitiya Hospital.
Lokuhetty lamented that the incident had tarnished Sri Lanka’s image and failure by law enforcement authorities would make others label the country as unsafe for tourists.

“The Government and the law enforcement authorities must take all necessary action to prevent harm to tourists,” he said, adding that post-war Sri Lanka had seen record tourist arrivals this year, thereby making an enhanced contribution to the country’s socioeconomic development.

“The gruesome incident will have a far-reaching impact on tourism,” warned industry analysts, who pointed to the setback Goa faced a few years ago when a British tourist was raped and murdered.

So far there hasn’t been an official condemnation of the attack or an expression of sympathy or apology to the family of the deceased Briton from the Government.

Partly due to the recession as well as owing to other factors, arrivals from UK have been under stress, though the traditionally strong market remains Sri Lanka’s second biggest source market for the industry after India. In the first 11 months of this year, tourist arrivals from UK amounted to 96,019, up by 0.7% over the corresponding period of last year.

The BBC reported that journalists in the southern Sri Lankan town of Tangalle had received death threats following their coverage of the attack.

Police Spokesman SP Ajith Rohana told BBC Sandeshaya that the post-mortem conducted at Matara Hospital revealed that the victim had died as a result of being attacked with a sharp weapon and that he had also been shot at.

“It was the assault by the sharp weapon that has caused his death,” said SP Rohana.

Eyewitness said Tangalle Pradesheeya Sabha Chairman Sampath Vidanapathirana was seen having a row with the couple prior to the attack at Natures Resort in Medilla.

“Police will arrest all suspects who have been identified,” said SP Rohana, who declined to reveal the names of suspects.

Free Media Movement Convenor Sunil Jayasekara told BBC Sandeshaya that journalists in the area had received threats after reporting the incident.

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