Sri Lanka security worries continue

COLOMBO, 15 May 2019: Sri Lanka imposed a curfew throughout the country from the late evening to 0400 local media reported on Tuesday.

Travel advisories warn visitors to be aware that authorities could impose night-time curfews at very short notice.  They advise travellers to avoid all but non-essential travel to Sri Lanka, which is the second tier down from a total travel ban.

The standard advice: “You should reconsider your need to travel to the country. If you are already in the country you should reconsider whether or not you really need to be there.

The UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) advises against all but essential travel to Sri Lanka, saying terrorists are very likely to try to carry out attacks in Sri Lanka following the 21 April bomb attacks on three churches and three hotels in Sri Lanka. Attacks were carried out in central Colombo, in the northern suburb of Colombo Kochchikade, and in Negombo roughly 20 miles north of Colombo; and in the east of the country in Batticaloa.

Security has been stepped up across the island and a state of emergency remains in place.

There were outbreaks of violence across parts of northwestern provinces, 13 May, and an island-wide nighttime curfew was imposed

Authorities introduced the curfew to prevent sectarian attacks on a mosque or churches. News reports confirmed a mosque in Minuwangoda came under attack in retaliation for the Easter Sunday bombings.

Violence erupted in Kuliyapitiya on Sunday night after angry mobs set fire to prayer centres and shops owned by Muslims.

While the travel industry views the situation from a commercial perspective, travellers see matters differently and travel advisories clearly warn visitors to be aware of shifts in mood and the ongoing threat of violence or terrorist attacks in the country remain high.

The travel industry launched a “Rebuilding Tourism in Sri Lanka” Facebook page 30 April with 5,300 followers to win back tourists. It focuses on fuzzy promotions and visuals on varied attractions including beaches and its famous tea plantations. But it is missing the point. Travellers are not going to risk their holiday and family safety until the facts show the situation has returned to normal. Images of a tourist brewing a pot of piping hot tea or tourists engaging in a sexy embrace on a railway platform are irrelevant.

An extremist political group engineered riots earlier this week in Hettipola that lead to the destruction of several Muslim owned shops and houses, The Island newspaper reported that riots caused considerable property damage.

Gangs travelling on motorcycles and in three-wheeler trucks have attacked Muslim owned properties ignoring police warnings. Authorities declared a curfew and called for back up to quell the rioting.

The government banned Facebook, WhatsApp and other social media platforms yesterday following anti-Muslim riots in Kuliyapitiya, Bingiriya, and Dummalasuriya.

An AFP dispatch said: Christian groups attacked Muslim-owned shops in a sign of the ongoing religious tension in Sri Lanka since the 21 April attacks by jihadist suicide bombers that left 258 dead.

Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe urged the public not to believe rumours and warned that civil unrest would only stretch the already thinly deployed security forces. A state of emergency has been in place since the bombings.

The latest unrest came as Catholic churches resumed public Sunday masses for the first time since the bombings and private schools run by Christian organisations reopened.

Muslims make up around 10% of Buddhist-majority Sri Lanka’s 21 million population and Christians about 7.6%.

(Source: The Island and AFP)