Written by Staff Writer
Sri Lanka has reopened its borders to international travellers, effective last week, after a four-month closure due to the closure of its main international airport and an increase in terrorist incidents in the country.
“We are relieved that our airports have opened and the security situation has been normal,” tourism minister John Amaratunga said.
“We are now really concerned about the impact that this closure had on tourism and how to restore it. We are happy to start trying to rebuild lost tourism facilities and our reputation in the field of tourism.”
The Sri Lankan resort island of Galle and the border town of Akuregoda (also known as Kandy) were closed indefinitely after Saturday’s midnight incident at Bandaranaike International Airport, Colombo.
“We don’t want to be seen as a soft target. We want to be seen as a very target-hardened country,” Amaratunga said at a press conference on Saturday.
Reopening the airports has been a challenge, Amaratunga added. “The airlines have not be able to restart and we’ve been in discussions with the aviation industry. In the present state of affairs, we don’t think that a full resumption of operations will be possible.”
Sri Lanka closed its airports in August after a bomb exploded at Bandaranaike International Airport, Colombo. Credit: Sangatha Agrawal/Getty Images AsiaPac/Getty Images
The Colombo International Airport is operated by India’s Air India and is called the ‘Taj Mahal of flight operations’. An attack on Bandaranaike was carried out by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), the main militant group in Sri Lanka, which ran a separatist war from 1983-2009.
Amanaratunga told CNN that though the Tamil Tigers have long been eliminated, the government continues to face threats from separatist terrorists and “in a given environment there is always an unseen threat.”
Barlow Mall in Colombo. Credit: Image Source/UIG via Getty Images
Four gunmen died during the incident, following a firefight with the Sri Lankan military, and 10 civilians were wounded.
A crime scene investigation report concluded that the explosive used was a mixture of high explosive and petrol.
After the airline operations resumed on November 28, Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena announced that soon passengers will be able to book direct flights to the region without the inconvenience of connecting flights from the Colombo airport.
Sirisena has also demanded that the airlines give up unused seats to local airlines to ensure more aviation competition and to encourage economic growth.