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Northern travel ban provokes international warnings

2014 Oct 28

A number of countries have revised their travel advisories to reflect recent Defence Ministry restrictions on foreigners wishing to go north of Omanthai.
Among them are the United States, Canada, Britain, Germany, France, Australia and Japan. Most European countries have advised their citizens to exercise caution when visiting Sri Lanka with some urging them to avoid all non-essential travel to “certain areas”.

Britain was the first to update its advisory following the October 15 Defence Ministry announcement that all foreign travellers to the north must obtain its permission. The US followed with a notice on its embassy website on October 21. “Travellers must receive approval before commencing travel… US citizens should monitor media coverage of local events and this website and be aware of their surroundings at all times,” it said.

The Canadian travel advisory urges its citizens to exercise “a high degree of caution”. “There is no nationwide advisory in effect for Sri Lanka,” it says. “However, you should exercise a high degree of caution due to the unpredictable security situation.” Special security measures remain in place in the North and the East and travel restrictions for foreigners may be applied without notice, it warned.

Australia has also updated its advisory saying foreign passport holders, including diplomats and international and local non-governmental organisation personnel, will require approval to travel to the Northern Province. The French advisory adds that Sri Lankan authorities have drawn up a list of 16 foreign-based organisations and 424 persons suspected of having ties with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. While no act of terrorism has been recorded in Sri Lanka since the end of the war in 2009, “the risk of a resumption of violence cannot be ruled out,” it states. “Ethnic and religious tensions are present throughout the country and the Sri Lankan authorities believe that the threat of terrorism is returning to their territory.”

The Germany Embassy has a special notice on its website saying that Defence Ministry approval is required for travel to the North. Japan has also updated its advisory. Many countries now have warnings about possible outbreaks of religious violence. Finland says that, while the security and domestic political situation has stabilised, and the country can be considered relatively stable and safe, there could be unrest between religious groups.

“Inter-communal tensions, including religious tensions, remain throughout the country, and have increased in 2014,” the Canadian advisory observes. “Ethnically-motivated violence took place on June 15, 2014, in the coastal towns of Aluthgama (near Bentota) and Beruwala, in the Southern Province. Further violent incidents cannot be ruled out. Curfews may be imposed on short notice.”

The Austrian travel advisory says there have been serious clashes between radical Buddhists and the Muslim minority in Aluthgama and Beruwala on the west coast. Many notices also refer to the heavy presence of the military in the North.

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