Sri Lanka lifts foreign travel ban to ex-war zone

COLOMBO Tue Jul 5, 2011 1:04am IST

Tourists walk along the Mount Lavinia beach in Colombo June 13, 2011. REUTERS/Dinuka Liyanawatte/Files

Tourists walk along the Mount Lavinia beach in Colombo June 13, 2011.

Credit: Reuters/Dinuka Liyanawatte/Files

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COLOMBO (Reuters) - Sri Lanka lifted a ban on Monday for foreigners travelling to former war zones in the island nation's north as tourism has boomed following the end of a three-decade war in May 2009.

The Defence Ministry said it had lifted the requirement for foreign passport holders to get prior approval for travel to the north, effective immediately.

The restriction was imposed during the final phase of the war, from 2006.

"As normalcy is flourishing in the country we see...travel restrictions to foreign passport holders as no longer required," the Defence Ministry said on its website www.defence.lk, quoting an unnamed official.

The Sri Lankan military fought a quarter-century-long war against separatist Tamil Tiger rebels.

The travel restriction to former war zones had applied to foreigners, journalists and independent observers even after the Tamil Tigers were defeated.

The international community and human rights groups said the restriction prevented them from getting independent information on alleged incidents of post-war human right violations, which the government repeatedly denied had occurred.

The government wants to attract foreign visitors to the former war zones as part of an ambitious strategic plan aiming woo 2.5 million tourists and earn $2.5 billion from the industry by 2016.

(Reporting by Ranga Sirilal; Writing by Shihar Aneez; Editing by Michael Roddy)

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