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>> Curse of being a people of a lesser god <<


   Political hooliganism that devastated Doering


The burnt interior (inset) Dietmar Doering - in shock

By Ranee Mohamed

Dietmar Doering (PhD) is a learned man. A lecturer in political and social sciences back home in Germany, he is an academic admired in his own land and in Sri Lanka too. So much so that he was awarded a doctorate by none other than First Lady Shiranthi Rajapakse herself, in November 2006.

But there are still things that happen in Sri Lanka that Dr. Dietmar Doering cannot understand. Like the dark deeds of December 4, when approximately 14 machete and sword wielding men rampaged his properties - the Capricorn Beach Hotel which functions under the same roof as the Aquarius Sports Resort situated on Beach Road, Marawila.

And as the crime involving a politician's driver and his gangs hit the international media, there are telephone calls from Switzerland, Germany and other lands trying to comfort Doering in this the worst time of his life.

Stood the test of time

"I have been here during the 1983 riots when Colombo was burning, I was here during the attack on the airport and also during the tsunami," said Doering. Yet nothing made him leave Sri Lanka.

"I built this hotel, room by room, section by section. It has not been easy," said a heartbroken Doering who had only a land with a few coconut trees when he took over the property.

"I came to Sri Lanka when Nanda Mathew, the sports minister at that time came to Germany and invited me to come to Sri Lanka and be the national table tennis coach. It was in 1981. When I first set foot in this country, I could not fathom why there was no autumn or winter. Sri Lanka was blessed with a summer of 365 days. I fell in love with this country," recalled Doering, as his eyes glistened with unshed tears.

It is said that when love and skill work together one can expect a masterpiece. And as the years flew by, this sportsman truly did build a masterpiece. Today, the Aquarius Sports Resort has the only indoor tennis stadium. It also hasbasketball, netball and badminton courts, table tennis, and football and cricket grounds.

And it is not just the space for sports that Dr. Dietmar Doering has created in Sri Lanka. In keeping with the sole purpose of building this sports hotel, which is to house the German players and teams that come here, Doering extended his strong hand to help budding sportsmen and women in Sri Lanka. Infact Doering was instrumental in getting for Sri Lanka her first propeq table tennis table, a container load of which was handed over to the Sri Lanka Table Tennis Association.

Exchange programmes

Not only have over 5000 German sportspeople come here to stay, but in a period of 10 years, Dietmar Doering has been responsible for ensuring that over 10 Sri Lankan teams have visited Germany for stays lasting three to four weeks to play friendly matches with Germany.

It is because of Dietmar Doering's perseverance that 30 Sri Lankan schools, national and mercantile teams have all visited Germany for friendly matches. Such friendliness extended down the years, so much so that great friendships were built and a great number of matches played.

As founder and CEO,  Asian German Sports Exchange Programme (AGSEP), he was more involved in promoting unity through sports. But he did not forget the love of his life, the hotel he built. Thus he came to the hotel, yet entrusted its day to day work to his able managers.

The first assault

Yet what happened on November 24 (Saturday) could not be handled by any manager in any hotel, anywhere in Sri Lanka. On this Poya day,a local party had come to the Capricorn Beach Hotel to spend some time in the night. The Capricorn Beach Hotel had been leased by Dietmar Doering to a local. Yet legally they were one, operating however as two hotels.

The group had included the personal driver of apolitician of the area. It is learnt that there had been a dispute regarding the bill (a sum amounting to approximately Rs. 2,000).

The bill had been settled, although the staff had reported that the payment was not made 'in a good mood.'

Thereafter some people had come to the place and had started a fight resulting in some of the people being hospitalised with stab injuries. Though it was a Poya day, the group who had entered had been drunk. Smashing the windows and wreaking havoc, the unmasked men wielding knives and batons had then smashed the vehicles parked nearby and left. It is also learnt that thereafter they had gone to Marawila town and just opposite the hospital they had smashed two shops, one a telecommunication centre and another a shop selling electrical items including refrigerators and household appliances which had been gutted to the ground.

Amazing settlement

However, it is learnt that the dispute was settled in an amazing manner,being that no payment will be made for the damages caused amounting to approximately Rs.15 million - that a settlement be made with the hotel paying Rs.300,000 to one of the assailants who was injured when he launched the attack. Reports have also surfaced that this injured assailant was allegedly seen in the company of Minister Jayashritha Tissera. But as the matter ended there, it was relegated tobad memories.

All's well that ends well, but not the party that had leased the hotel. Being a married man, a father of two children, he had come to Dietmar Doering and told him that financially he was a 'finished man.'

"He told us that he wants to give the hotel back to us," said Doering.

Night of horror

Thereafter life at the hotel continued. December 1, 2 and 3 breezed in and out. And on December 4 came the bolt from the dark.

"I received a telephone call at about 2 a.m. from an employee who said that an armed gang had comeand smashed some of the rooms and set fire to the hotel. They had threatened the security and gone on a wild rampage. After setting fire to the hotel the machete and sword wielding ganghad happily walked along the beach and disappeared," said Doering.

Walking past the 10 rooms where the unwelcome guests had wreaked havoc causes a stirring in the heart not just for Doering but for all. What were once mattresses now lie on the floor, with black coir jutting out from all over. There are only 10 pieces left of the 10 mattresses. What once were sleek bathroomsnow look like the inside of a fireplace. The lampshades lie twisted and burnt and the planks of the beds are now but bits of firewood.

Ten rooms have been engulfed by the fires of wrath. Room No's 128, 129, 130, 131, 132, 133, 134, 135, 138, 139 will never be occupied again for fury has left its lifelong marks here.

Deitmer Doering, walks in. He sighs, he cries. There is silence everywhere. Even the authorities seem as silent as the evil doers.The estimated damage due to the secondattack was said to be Rs. 9 million.

Assailants known

Villagers say that they know the gang; that the gang walks free. In fact, the gang is said to be sitting on boulders and under trees barely a stone's throw away from this hotel.

Such is the power ofpolitics here in Sri Lanka.

These are the supporters of politicians who get them the votes. But Doering says that when the common manat home sees what these gangs do, then the politicians lose their votes.

Prediction

"These gangs are like ghosts in a bottle. In Germany there is a saying that when you have a ghost in a bottle and that ghost get outs, even the owner does not know what the ghosts do," said Doering, referring to the many ghosts in the many bottles of the politicians in Sri Lanka.

Employees distraught

Doering has given so much to Sri Lanka, and his employees have been working for him for nine to 15 years.

"Why did they do this to him?" asks his housekeeper, Sagarica who has been working with Doering for nine years. "He has never harmed anyone. He has helped all the villagers. During Christmas he gives gifts to all the children in the area. Everyone in this hotel is shocked by what has happened to our master. He is such a good man," cries Sagarica. "I am so ashamed that our own Sri Lankans have done this to him," she sobs.

The gardener who has been working here for 13 years says he is ashamed too. So ashamed that he cannot look at his master in the eye. "How can our Sri Lankans do this to such a good man?" he asks.

Empathy and sympathy

Ironically, the whole village of Marawila seems to be with Dietmar Doering during his time of sadness. "I have received over 500 telephone calls. Recently, I bought a small Rottweiler pup and even the person from whom I bought the pup called me," said Doering who is consoled with the concern.

"Sports enable men and women to accept defeat. One would rarely find a sportsperson resorting to violence. Sports people are strong, they can face any situation" said this sportsman, as he pondered about the foul play meted out to him.

Sadly today even his sports and his sporty mind cannot soothe him. Nothing can console Dietmar Doering. His strong physique slouches. He says he is devastated and that he has got worries on his mind.

Dr. Dietmar Doering sits in a room surrounded by various files about tsunami help, Mullaitivu and Nilaveli social service projects to help children. Sadly there seems to be no tangible help coming his way in this crisis which he considers a personal one.

Concerned about employees

"As a businessman, I know I cannot continue. None of this has been insured. But as a human being, when I think of my workers who have been working with me for decades, I ask myself how can I go? My workers are over 50 now and it is not easy for them to find jobs. Besides, tourism in Sri Lanka is down right now. How can they get jobs? What will happen to my people, my employees?" lamented Dietmar Doering.

We all try to pick up the pieces and continue with life when misfortune strikes. But Dietmar Doering has nothing to pick up. As he watches the ashes of his hotel flying in the sea breeze, he sees a double heartache in the horizon as he packs his bags to go back to Germany, leaving Sri Lanka behind.

Investigations underway - SSPKularatna

SSP L.G. Kularatna who is directing investigations into this casewhen contacted by The Sunday Leader said that he has sent two teams to investigate this matter and that no arrests have yet been made. He went on to say that some officers of the Intelligence Units have also been detailed to make their own investigations.

"We are not involved" - Minister Jayashritha Tissera

Minister Jayashritha Tissera whose name has surfaced in this fiasco owing to his personal driver, Duminda, being present at the scene of the initial violence, when contacted by The Sunday Leader said that none of his security personnel or his drivers were involved in the  incidents and that he does not know anyone by the name of 'Duminda.'

"Of course my driver was present on the day of the initial 'fight.' He has only tried to settle the dispute. But we certainly do not know anything about what happened thereafter," he said.


Curse of being a people of a lesser god


Upcountry detainees released in the presence of police officers

By Arthur Wamanan and Kshanika Argent

The fear that gripped the Tamil community in Colombo had only just begun to wane after a decline in the number of abductions when the indiscriminate arrests of over 2000 Tamils following the twin bombs in the city and a suburb, shook them to the core. 

The cordon and search operations carried out last week in the city and the suburbs came as a surprise not only to the Tamils, but to people of other ethnicities as well.

The Tamils in the capital faced similar problems when bomb explosions were a part and parcel of Colombo life a few years ago.

The Tamils were therefore to heave a sigh of relief when the Ceasefire Agreement was signed five years back. And a return now to the days of horror where an average Tamil would spend time at police stations to get themselves registered for police reports, has caused a despondency never before seen.

Last week's roundups and indiscriminate arrests have created fear not only among those who were arrested and packed off to the Boossa camp in Galle, but also every Tamil citizen who had come from the north east.

While several human rights activists raised concern over the arrests and detention of Tamils, the government claimed it was not targeting any particular community and the operations were merely for the protection of all citizens.

Panic sticken

However, these actions by the government purportedly to safeguard the city of Colombo and its people has only resulted in a large number of panic stricken Tamil parents and relatives from the north and upcountry rushing to Colombo to search for their loved ones and make sure they were safe.

M. Gnanapragasam was one of those anxious parents who had to come to Colombo from Mannar when he heard that his son was taken into custody.

The 57 year-old father from Murunkan, Mannar was waiting for his son, Anthony Lonson Gnanapragasam (22) who had come to Sri Lanka from Malaysia.

"He has been there for the last six months and had arrived in Sri Lanka the previous day," Gnanapragasam said.

He added that his son had arrived with two other friends and the police had arrested two of them. "His friend who was not arrested phoned us as soon as this happened," he said.

Anthony Gnanapragasam was arrested when he was on his way to Gunasinghapura bus terminal to board a bus to Mannar to visit his family.

Gnanapragasam told The Sunday Leader his son possessed all the necessary documentation that a Tamil is required to possess in case the police checked him.

"He had his national ID and his passport. I don't know why he was arrested," the father said.

His search for the whereabouts of his son was also futile, as he could not be traced anywhere.

Meanwhile religious workers were trying to help put families back together. Robina Paulin, is a Sister at the Holy Cross Church, Mannar. She, together with another person from the church had rushed to the Boossa camp, scoured the premises at the Welikada prison, and other likely areas, to no avail.

"We could not locate Anthony anywhere. However, we are continuing to look for him," she told The Sunday Leader.

Parents' worry

Says Gnanapragasam, "My main worry is that we will be unable to find him though we know he has been arrested by the security forces. All I want to know is whether he is doing alright. I will do anything to get him out when I know where he is," Gnanapragasam added.

Gnanapragasam is not alone. His story unfortunately resonates among hundreds of other Tamils now in a desperate search for their kith and kin.

Certainly this issue brings into sharp focus the veracity of the government's claims as to the numbers arrested.

Chief Government Whip, Minister Fernandopulle said in parliament on Tuesday that 2184 persons were arrested and 1800 were released. However on the same day at a press briefing, the Minister was to change his calculations and state that more than 2500 were arrested and around 2300 had been released.

"We don't know how many have been arrested and whether my son has been taken anywhere else," Gnanapragasam said.

Government contradicts

Convener, Civil Monitoring Commission, (CMC), Mano Ganesan told The Sunday Leader that  government statistics on the number of persons arrested were contradictory.

"The figures given by Minister Fernandopulle in parliament were different from what he said at the press briefing on the same day. Likewise, the Human Rights Ministry has a different number and the police have a different number," he said.

He said the parents whose children were arrested were feeling helpless as many people had gone missing during the arrest.

Seventeen Tamils from the upcountry were released last Thursday reducing the number in custody to 185.

Minister Fernandopulle last week also said that 100 of the 185 were under detention orders and that some of them had connections with the LTTE.

Gnanapragasam told The Sunday Leader his son had been in Malaysia for six months and had been working in a shop. "He was never involved in any illegal activities," he said.

Gnanapragasam also said that his anxiety about his son was similar to that of a parent whose son was abducted. "I don't know where he is," he said.

Abductions?

The fact that Anthony Gnanapragasam could not be located anywhere has also led to widespread speculation that some of the Tamils had been abducted during the roundups.

"I have my doubts. I think that certain people used this opportunity to abduct some people. The government has paved the way for them to do this," said Ganesan.

Ganesan called upon the police to release the names of those who were arrested, detained and those released.

"The government has said that some of those arrested have been detained, and others discharged. This information is only in numbers. We call upon the police to immediately release the names and other details of those who have been arrested, discharged and still detained to avoid confusion among the family members."

While Gnanapra-gasam was worried about his son's whereabouts, Selvam Leelawathi was in a better position as she had met her son, Selvam Thushara in Boossa.

He was taken by the security forces from a lodge in Kotahena where he had stayed with his mother for the last one and a half years.

"We are from Ariyalai, Jaffna. I came here with my son to send him abroad. He had all the necessary documents, including the police report. I don't know why he was arrested," she said.

She added that she was relieved to see her son in Boossa.

"But I prefer that he is with me. I want to know that he is alright. I don't care whether he goes abroad or not. He has respiratory problems at nights. I want to be near him," she said.

Recalling past horror

In June this year Tamils from the north and upcountry were targeted when over 300 were evicted from lodges in and around Colombo and unceremoniously packed into buses and deported to the north. However, they were eventually brought back to Colombo following severe opposition from human rights activists.

The government has continuously stated that Tamils were never a target. However, the Tamils who have been living in Colombo for many years have started to panic following the latest action taken by the government, purportedly on security grounds.

Meanwhile, some of the upcountry Tamils who were arrested last week were released on Thursday. Politicians representing the upcountry had gone to Boossa and secured the release of these youths.

Vocational Training Deputy Minister, P. Radhakrishnan told The Sunday Leader that there are still several upcountry youth in detention.

"I'm not sure of the exact number released. However, there are some more under detention," he said.

CWC/CPA file action

The CWC had also complained to the Supreme Court against last week's mass arrest of Tamil persons.

The CWC in its petition to courts had stated that the arrests had taken place in an irresponsible manner, causing great inconvenience and humiliation.

The Centre for Policy Alternatives (CPA) also filed a petition at the Supreme Court on December 4 over what they claim to be arbitrary arrests and detention of persons on grounds of ethnicity.

The CPA said that the government specifically targeted the Tamil community in an unlawful manner and did not keep the Human Rights Commission informed of the arrests, let alone the families of most taken into custody.

In a statement to The Sunday Leader, the CPA charged, "The camp that these people were sent to was overcrowded and ill equipped which has led to cruel and inhumane treatment. By sending so many people to a place like this, this is not the first time that Tamil people have been persecuted in this manner," referring to the eviction of Tamils in June.

The CPA added that the mass arrests were a violation of human rights, and that they have received reports from organisations monitoring the situation at Boossa, and from people who have been released from the camp, that the conditions were poor to say the least.

The CPA went on to say that despite the international community, human rights groups and the media outcry over the arrests, it is now up to the Supreme Court to look into the matter.

The sudden roundups and search cordons have not only affected the Tamils who had arrived recently from the north or the hill country, but also those who have been living in Colombo for many years.

These actions in the name of security measures have only resulted in the movements of Tamils being restricted.

Sordid conditions

The government established the Boossa detention camp 1971 to house suspects arrested following the first insurrection by the JVP.

Apart from being notorious for the detention of suspects in the second insurrection of the JVP, in 1987, many Tamil youths were arrested in the north east and sent to Boossa. Despite rumours of the detention camp being used as a torture chamber to interrogate Tamil civilians, none of these rumours have been substantiated according to UNP MP, John Amaratunge. Speaking to The Sunday Leader the former interior minister said, "There has been talk of torture, but no one can be sure at the moment."

Amaratunge added that the camp has been used many times in the past as a detention centre following mass arrests. However, he stated that human rights of the detainees are violated due to the poor facilities at the camp.

Reports have emerged that detainees are led out at gun point and spend six minutes in the latrines with no option other than defecating and urinating into a gutter deep inside the camp which overflows.

Officials remain tight lipped

Chief Government Whip, Minister Jeyaraj Fernandopulle stated at a media briefing last week that the cordon and search operations carried out by the security forces did not target any particular community.

Minister Fernandopulle stated that the he cannot divulge what measures will be carried out in the future.

"How can we tell? These operations are carried out suddenly," he told reporters last week.

The government however has stated that the Tamils were never a target when carrying out search operations. Speaking to The Sunday Leader, Military Spokesperson Brig. Udaya Nanayakkara said that there were Sinhalese and Muslims among those arrested but government officials remained tight lipped when questioned about the treatment of those taken in.


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