Amid concerns that human rights investigators could go incognito, posing as travelers to gather evidence, the Sri Lankan government has banned all travel by foreigners (even if they are of Sri Lankan origin) to the country’s Northern Province without the acquisition of a permit for travel from the country’s defense ministry. The Sri Lankan civil war had its roots in this province. Earlier this year, the United Nations Human Rights Council and the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights recommended a war crimes investigations into the Sri Lankan government’s conduct in the final phases of the civil war against Tamil separatists. Sri Lankan Mahinda Rajapaksa has denied allegations that the Sri Lankan government is guilty of human rights abuses.
The Sri Lankan Ministry of Defense (MoD) announced earlier this week that it would restrict travel to the Northern Province for all foreign travelers, and that the travel ban was for an “indefinite” period of time. The MoD also said that it will scan the situation periodically and update its decision accordingly. To travel to the Northern Province, travelers will have to seek clearance from the Sri Lankan Ministry of Defense. The MoD did not come out and state a clear reason for the travel ban, noting that it was merely “based on careful study” of the situation in the North. MoD spokesman Brigadier Ruwan Wanigasuriya told the press that travelers who arrived in the Northern Province without an MoD clearance would be sent back. “It’s obvious, if they don’t carry the MoD approval, they will be sent back when their railway compartment is checked,” he said.
Curiously, the decision to impose travel restrictions comes after President Mahinda Rajapaksa inaugurated the Northern railway line from Pallai to Jaffna, the capital of the Northern Province, just under two weeks ago. Wanigasuriya noted that “If we had introduced the MoD approval before the railway service was launched, we would be questioned then also – all what I can say is it was not a decision taken haphazardly.”
Wanigasuriya additionally noted that over the past nine months, 15,000 travelers had visited the North with the appropriate MoD clearance. “That means, hardly anyone had trouble in obtaining a MoD approval,” he claimed. “The MoD approval was adopted, based on the present matters that are considered detrimental to national security and we cannot disclose the reasons to the media.” The national security matters in question are likely related to the ongoing human rights inquiry against the Sri Lankan government.