Is Sri Lanka’s government using tourism to whitewash its alleged war crimes? While the island has become a top destination for foreign visitors, a very different – and far more macabre – tourism industry has flourished in silence. After decades of civil war, Sinhalese tourists are finally free to visit the previously inaccessible northeast. Since the Tamil Tiger (LTTE) separatist rebels were crushed in 2009, visitors have been coming in busloads to explore the former warzone with a morbid curiosity in the defeated enemy.
[ full story |[ Al Jazeera ][ Dec 23 01:54 GMT ]
Next to a destroyed water tower kept as a reminder of the war’s violence stands a military run souvenir shop in Kilinochchi, the former de facto LTTE capital. With a multitude of shops and stalls throughout the region, the army has been criticised for undermining local business and civil society. Meanwhile, the government hails the military’s involvement in development as a new model for post conflict reconstruction.
A stray dog at the ruins of another LTTE bunker bombed by the government’s air force, which has become another popular tourist site since the war ended. Still, extensive reconstruction remains to be done in the previous war zone and the government has been accused of neglecting civilian development in favor of infrastructure and tourism. An estimated 93,482 civilians remain internally displaced and even the war tourism sites remain surrounded by land mines. In March, the UNHCR will decide whether Sri Lanka will be independently investigated for its alleged war crimes.
One of the most popular attractions on the war tourism trail was reclusive LTTE leader Velupillai Prabhakaran’s three floor bunker home in the jungle. This photo is taken few days before the military detonated a bomb inside, citing “safety concerns”. Others have speculated that the destruction intended to prevent the site from becoming a shrine for former Tamil Tigers.
The ‘terrorist swimming pool’, 83 ft long and 22 ft deep, where the LTTE allegedly trained their Sea Tiger divers ahead of deep sea operations and suicide attacks. “While the nation was swarming with pools of blood with the spate of LTTE’s heinous crimes elsewhere, the terrorist had constructed this huge swimming pool in 2001 for exclusive use of the cream of terrorists” said a sign.
A tourist from Tangalle, a popular southern beach resort, has his photo taken in front of a Sea Tiger battleship at the LTTE museum. According to a local human rights activist, the army tries to illustrate to the public how sophisticated and brutal the LTTE were. In return, the government will appear all the stronger for having defeated them.
A mortar launcher, allegedly used by the Tamil Tigers in the civil war, displayed to domestic tourists at the LTTE museum. This is a rare sign featuring Tamil, the predominant language in the northeast of Sri Lanka, as most are in Sinhalese only.
Across the previous war zone, numerous triumphalist monuments have sprung up in what used to be the stronghold of the now defeated separatist guerrilla the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, LTTE. With an AK47 in one hand and the Sri Lankan flag in the other, the statue’s soldier looks towards the site where Tamil Tiger leader Velupillai Prabhakaran’s body was found in May 2009. Four stone lions, the country’s national animal, surround the base and a dove sits on the muzzle of the machine gun.