Sri Lanka has barred foreigners from visiting a former war zone in the island’s north without permission, due to national security concerns
Much of the development work in the North is done by organizations like UN Habitat, ICRC and FAO. These travel restrictions are expected to affect the representatives of these organizations and their work mostly as a number of them are foreigners.
Foreigners, who wish to visit the North, will need prior approval from the Defence Ministry, Military Spokesperson, Brigadier Ruwan Wanigasooriya said, at a media briefing yesterday (15). Soon after the war ended in May 2009, foreigners were banned from entering the North, without prior permission from the military.
Nevertheless, this ban was lifted a few years ago, only to be reintroduced yesterday. “The Defence Ministry has received information that certain foreign elements are trying to create communal discord in the North and that cannot be allowed,” said Wanigasooriya, explaining the reason behind the new regulation. Wanigasooriya, continuing, said foreigners who wish to visit the North will be required to state their purpose of visit to the ministry and obtain written approval before they can proceed with their trip.
In 2011, the ministry said that foreigners who wanted to visit the North recreationally could do so without the permission of the military.
“We have suffered from decades of war and now that we are moving towards development, we do not want to be pushed back into war. No one was prevented from going to the North, while the President was touring the region” Wanigasooriya said. He admitted that the government was receiving assistance through INGOs and foreign countries for the development of the North. “We are not trying to prevent anyone from going to the North, if they inform us of their visit, they can go ahead with our blessing,” the Brigadier said.
The United Nations Human Rights Council voted in March to probe allegations that the military killed 40,000 civilians in the final months of the separatist war, which ended in 2009.
But in August, President Mahinda Rajapakse refused visas for UN investigators, effectively barring them from face-to-face access to Sri Lankans wanting to testify in the probe.