Sri Lanka allows foreigners into former war zone

Sri Lanka has eased restrictions on tourists travelling to the island's former war zones two years after the defeat Tamil Tiger separatists, the government said Tuesday.

Foreigners no longer require defence ministry clearance to visit the northern region where hundreds of thousands of Tamils were forced to leave their homes during years of fighting between the rebels and government forces.

"The Ministry of Defence has lifted the travel restrictions on foreign passport holders to visit the north with immediate effect," the information department said in a statement.

It said the new rules would also affect many foreign passport holders of Sri Lankan origin who wanted to return to their roots in the island's Tamil heartland.

Government forces crushed Tamil rebels and declared an end to decades of ethnic war in May 2009. The final offensive attracted widespread criticism over alleged civilian deaths during military bombing of so-called "no-fire" zones.

International journalists, foreign tourists and aid workers were banned from travelling to the north during the fighting, and restrictions have remained in place since the end of the war.

Journalists must still apply for special permission to visit the region.

The information department said the new travel rules had been implemented after a meeting between Economic Development Minister Basil Rajapakse and business leaders in the north.

The region remains ravaged by the war with poor infrastructure and little economic activity, but the government says it hopes tourism can aid recovery.

Many Tamils say the government is yet to deliver on promises to grant them greater political autonomy in areas of the north where they are concentrated.

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