Cultural Fund pardons rowdy Russians for Tourism’s sake

By Leon Berenger

A group of Russian tourists arrested for reportedly behaving in a manner that showed scant regard for the world heritage site of Sigiriya last Saturday, was ordered to be released by a senior official of the Central Cultural Fund (CCF) in order to “protect the interest of the Tourism industry”.

Director General (DG)- CCF, Professor Nimal Silva told the Sunday Times that he ordered the release of the group of nine men and a woman as such arrests of foreigners could dent the good image of the country.

These pictures caught on a mobile camera show one of them getting ready to jump on to the Lion’s paw, that’s up and walking on the ancient walls below.

“Sigiriya is neither a religious nor sacred location, therefore, the offence committed by the Russian group was of a minor nature. I instructed the local police to release the group after a strong warning,” Professor Silva said.

“We are getting more and more Russian tourists with the end of the ethnic conflict, and such shortsighted acts by local authorities could damage future prospects for the industry. “Furthermore, locals are often fond of blowing out of proportion such incidents, with certain sections of the media also known to support them towards this end,” he added.

Secretary- Ministry of Cultural Affairs, Wimal Rubasinghe said that he was made aware of the incident by the DG- CCF, adding that the matter was now over as the Russians had also left the country. In a statement made to the police, Sanjaya Nagahawatte, a senior tea marketing executive said that he, along with several others, had witnessed the rowdy behaviour of the Russian group showing little or no respect for local sentiments or even the law.

“They were dancing and jumping around the Lion’s Paw at the mouth of the fortress, and even treading on the ancient brick walls, in spite of a notice that had been put up not to do so because of the prevailing muddy conditions due to the wet weather. They also ignored appeals from local guides and others to stop such revelry”.

“In addition they even turned abusive, and the woman in the group spat into the face of an elderly villager who had attempted to intervene”. “The group, some of them bare-bodied, were also taking photographs in lewd positions and were making vulgar hand signals to those who were attempting to stop them”.
“They also turned abusive at a Woman Police Constable (WPC) and a Police Sergeant who arrived on the scene,” Mr. Nagahawatte, told the Sunday Times.

“Later, with the help of police reinforcements, the group was rounded up and taken to the Sigiriya police station, where the Officer-in-Charge (OIC) showed serious intent of taking stern action against the Russians”.

Sigiriya OIC Inspector of Police Vajira Attapattu told the Sunday Times that the police were unable to take action against the group simply because the CCF failed to make a complaint in this regard.

“It is the CCF that has introduced the rules for the area, from authorising parking lots to ‘No Go’ zones in and around the fortress. Therefore, it is their duty to take up the matter in the proper manner, which they failed to do,” he said confirming that the group was released on the instructions of Professor Silva.

Local tourist of a lesser god?

The Sunday Times learns that a student who was part of a group from Jaffna, is still in jail for over a month, after he had attempted to remove a tiny stone from the rock, purely as a souvenir.

The student was arrested by officials from the CCF, who later pressed the police to take legal action.
The student was later produced before the local Magistrate and remains remanded to date.

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