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Killing throws spotlight on dark side of a dream

WHEN the good times were rolling, Mauritius popped up on the radar of Irish holidaymakers as an idyllic place to relax, with luxury resorts, great beaches and attentive staff. The Indian Ocean island, where Michaela Harte's life came to such a tragic end this week, ranks high on the list of exclusive destinations.

It ranks particularly high with honeymooners. This is a place to do little more than enjoy the opulence of the hotels, the constant sunshine, and the white sands.

Adventurers may have chosen an African safari and those wanting a taste of local culture would probably have headed to Thailand, but Mauritius is all about the hotel, the beach and simply experiencing luxury on a level not found at home.

There's little sense of 'gated-compound' about the place but there are very few reasons to leave the resort.

A particularly fine botanic garden, Pampelmousses, lies at the centre of the island and a heritage centre on the old Beau Plan sugar plantation certainly helps to put the island's history into perspective, but there is no pressure to visit 'must-see' attractions.

In the heritage centre, L'Aventure de Sucre, you discover that the very culture and social fabric of Mauritius was woven around the sugar cane plantations.


Mauritians are an ethnic mix of African slaves, Indian labourers, Chinese immigrants and a smattering of French and British expatriates.

Plantation work was hard but with the decline of old-fashioned sugar production came the rise of hospitality -- a far more favourable way to make a living for those who could get jobs in the growing business.

Europeans come seeking absolute luxury and Mauritians give it to them. Manpower is cheap and plentiful which gives visitors the sense of being constantly attended to and utterly cosseted. Nowhere is there a sense of danger or intrusion.

Encounters with Mauritians are almost exclusively through the resort.

Management of the resort is generally European but the rest of the staff is Mauritian and they have risen to the task of providing visitors with the pampering they require. Mauritians are masters of hospitality.

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That's perhaps the most chilling aspect of this dreadful crime.

With no sign of forced entry to Michaela Harte's room, the spotlight is on the staff.

For anyone who has enjoyed the hospitality of Mauritius, the question now arises of dissatisfactions that may lurk beneath the charming exterior. Crime in Mauritius undoubtedly exists at a local level but opportunities to rob tourists are rare and there is no tradition of it.

Like Antigua in 2008, where the British honeymoon couple Catherine and Ben Mullany were murdered during a robbery, Mauritius is now steeling itself for a drop in international visitors following Michaela's murder.

Time may reveal the circumstances of her death but it will never repair the shattering of the dream -- a beautiful young woman enjoying an idyllic holiday, on a tropical island, after her perfect wedding.

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