Sri Lanka has lifted a ban on foreign travelers visiting the former war zone in the north of the country, its defence ministry said on Friday, as the new government promotes reconciliation with ethnic minority Tamils after a 26-year war.
Former President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s government imposed a travel ban on Oct. 15, weeks after the United Nations began a probe into alleged war crimes in the final phase of the civil war between the army and Tamil Tiger separatist rebels, which ended in 2009.
Defence Ministry spokesman Brigadier Ruwan Wanigasooriya in a statement said the National Security Council met under the newly elected President Maithripala Sirisena on Friday and lifted the ban.
“The conflict situation in the country has eased and the normalcy has returned. It was decided to relax the ban on foreigners traveling to certain parts of the country,” he said, referring to the northern province.
The north of Sri Lanka is predominantly Tamil and the site of much of the fighting during the three-decade war.
Sirisena named a former diplomat as governor of the northern province on Thursday, replacing a retired military officer.
Rajapaksa had ignored repeated local and international requests to replace the officer to promote reconciliation efforts.
Rajapaksa had kept security tight in the north with a heavy military presence, which his brother Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa had said was to prevent any threat of regrouping and re-arming by the Tiger rebels.
The Tamil National Alliance (TNA), the former proxy political party of the Tamil Tiger rebels backed Sirisena at polls on Jan. 8 and helped him to unseat Rajapaksa, who had rejected a faster reconciliation with Tamils. Rajapaksa in August rejected entry visas for UN officials for the war crime probe. His administration had said an external investigation is unnecessary and Sri Lanka can conduct its own.
The United Nations estimated in a 2011 report that about 40,000 Tamil civilians were killed in the final weeks of the war, mostly by the army.
Rajapaksa and his government rejected the accusations.
Sirisena has also refused an international probe, but he has pledged to deal with war crimes allegations through an independent mechanism under the local legal system. (Business Recorder)