Sri Lanka reopens borders for the first time since the war, sparking protests in the north

This week Sri Lanka reopened its land borders to foreign travelers, allowing citizens of 19 countries into the island for the first time since 2015, when the government banned visas for those it deemed too dangerous. Tension and uncertainty over who should be let into the country has lifted, allowing local businesses to access their most lucrative travel market since Tiger Tiger rebels were crushed in 2009 by the military. Tamil people were concerned that opening the borders would be used as a justification to allow money-laundering from those in Tamil-majority areas. Some saw it as a signal of reconciliation, while others suspected the move was an effort to legalize foreign money and financial crimes. And it was clear some of the foreign and local politicians who joined in the celebrations were doing so for that reason: in a Sri Lankan newspaper the celebrations were described as a return to “old economic relations.”

On Thursday, however, Tamil politicians criticized the move and called for an inquiry into who should be granted visas. K. Palaniswami, chief minister of the Northern Province in the island’s north-east, said the visa initiative was a “betrayal” and accused the government of simply trying to “open doors for foreigners and junk regulations.” Tamil politicians have joined other ethnic-minority groups that have demanded reforms since the island’s independence in 1948, claiming that what they were offered was a pipedream, especially as majority Sinhalese rule felt no need to consult minority groups. While the majority of Tamils in Sri Lanka remain dissatisfied with the government, they are also hungry for business opportunities and have been able to seize the opening for years.

A resolution passed in 2016 called for greater autonomy in three northern provinces, offering enhanced rights and economic development opportunities. More recently, the Indian aid program UNDP has partnered with the provincial government and worked with entrepreneurs in the region to set up several new hotels and startups like The Aye (Pizza) Cafe, which specializes in hand-made pizza. For business and political leaders alike, the borders reopening offered a chance to move past old divisions and put his country’s fortunes in the past.

Read the full story at The Guardian.

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