x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

'War tourism' attracts millions of visitors to Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka is encouraging tourists from the UAE to visit sites carved out by 26 years of civil war, including a network of underground tunnels and a tractor that was converted into a tank.

War relics, such as this destroyed water tank in Jaffna, where Mobisher Rabbani stands, have become popular destinations in Sri Lanka. Courtesy of Mobisher Rabbani
War relics, such as this destroyed water tank in Jaffna, where Mobisher Rabbani stands, have become popular destinations in Sri Lanka. Courtesy of Mobisher Rabbani

DUBAI // The Sri Lankan government is eager to tap into growing interest in the UAE to see parts of the island nation that had been unsafe for decades.

Since 26 years of civil war ended in 2009, Sri Lanka has been rebuilding its battered north and encouraging tourism internally and from outside the country. Much of this is "war tourism", sights such as a tractor converted into a tank and a network of underground tunnels that the Tamil Tigers dug.

Sarath Wijesinghe, Sri Lanka's ambassador to the UAE, said in the past few months the number of tourists visiting his country had increased by 46 per cent.

"In fact in the northern and eastern areas we have are seeing around 500,000 tourists per month."

Overall, the numbers of visitors to Sri Lanka was 900,000 in December alone.

Mr Wijesinghe said there was an appetite for "war tourism" as many people were curious and inquisitive about the history of the country.

"I would say you can call it war tourism but we are looking to increase all kinds of tourism including medical, cricket and environmental," Mr Wijesinghe said, adding tourists would be able to learn more about the civil war and see what it was like for people during that time.

Mobisher Rabbani, the president of the Overseas Pakistanis and Sri Lankan Society in Dubai, last month visited the city of Jaffna at the island's northern tip. "We were taken to see a network of underground tunnels used by the Tamil Tigers and it was amazing to see how well everything was fitted out," Mr Rabbani said. "The strangest sight for me was seeing a tractor that had been converted into a tank with slabs of armour attached to it."

The war relics have been preserved by the government and have information boards telling people what happened at the scene.

He said Pakistan supported the Sri Lankan government from 1989 to 2009 and the island has been a popular destination for expatriate Pakistanis.

The number of Sri Lankans in the Emirates is estimated at 300,000.

 

nhanif@thenational.ae