By Sandon Jayawardana
Police have identified several suspects who led and participated in the attacks on two prominent hotels and related buildings in Negombo as residents who participated in the looting continued to return items they looted from the establishments.
A senior police officer said that a group with political affiliations incited the residents of the area and urged them to attack the two institutions because they are owned by politicians from the ruling party in the area.
He said, however, that it was noted that while the attack was taking place, several people were allowed to carry items, including tables, chairs, air conditioners, and crockery, before setting the place on fire.
The officer said that some of the furniture and items were returned to the hotel while others were dumped on the roadside after police began collecting information on those involved in the looting.
It was about five in the evening. On Monday, a crowd estimated at more than 1,000 people descended on the Avenra Gardens Hotel in Negombo. When an angry mob stormed the hotel, Operations Director Cedric Nichantha Fernando was able to see everything from his office window.
Among them were men, women, and even children. They were all bent on destruction and looting.”
By the end of that night, much of the hotel had been looted and set on fire. The hotel’s three reception halls, from which he earns much of his income by hosting weddings and events, were destroyed, as were its 36 rooms. The mob also set fire to 13 luxury cars belonging to the hotel. Among them were a Lamborghini, a Ferrari, two Hummers, a stretch limousine, an antique, a staff bus and several vans. Most of the vehicles were rented primarily for hotel jobs, Fernando said. Cars are now shells burnt.
The mob also attacked the home of Danish de Silva, the owner of Avenra, located in part of the hotel building. The Avenra Walk restaurant and the residence of the luxury Avenra Dynasty were also destroyed.
After destroying the Avenra Gardens, the mob walked to the Avenra Bayfont located about three kilometers away, where they repeated the same exercise.
Avenra Gardens has 210 employees while Avenra Bayfont has 70 employees on its payroll. All of them are now out of work, as Fernando lamented.
Meanwhile, those who have booked weddings and other events in the hotel suffer from anxiety. About 80 events were booked for May alone, most of which had not taken place when the attack occurred. The hotel has given the clients the option to move the scheduled tasks to the Avenra Gangara Hotel in Winapua if they agree.
Fernando has vehemently denied allegations spread on social media that a prominent government politician owned shares in the hotel and that its owner was a close associate of senior government officials. “Neither the hotel nor the owner is associated with politics. We believe that the attacks were motivated by jealousy and a desire to loot.”
Soon after the attacks, photos and videos of those allegedly looting items from the hotel spread on social media. Fernando said that since the publication of these photos, videos and announcements that police will investigate and bring charges against those involved, some items have been returned and dumped outside the hotel. But this was only a small part of what was stolen. Police have so far arrested four.
At least five people were shot during the unrest in Avenra Gardens. One of them later died in hospital. A 19-year-old died on Friday, bringing the death toll to two. The circumstances surrounding the shooting remain unclear and police said investigations are now underway.
A mob also looted and destroyed the Grandeeza Hotel at Khurana in Negombo. About 250 hotel workers are now unemployed. The hotel management issued a statement saying that it would close its operations indefinitely.
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