Sri Lanka on Wednesday reopened its border crossings to international travelers, allowing Chinese and Indian businessmen to travel freely despite protests by some ethnic minority Tamils who accuse the government of ethnic discrimination.
The soft opening of the border points came after the country’s Supreme Court ruled on Friday that authorities cannot prevent the international travel of non-resident Indian or Chinese citizens.
The court is still weighing whether foreigners can be prevented from entering the Indian territory after entering Sri Lanka. The government can effectively close the border points depending on what the Supreme Court orders.
The move was welcomed by the business community and foreign governments.
Sri Lanka closed its borders to Indian and Chinese citizens after a violent police crackdown on a Jan. 8 protest by ethnic Tamils, protesting against the alleged violation of human rights during the country’s civil war. The police were responding to a call by the Tamil Tigers, the war-time guerrilla group, to stage a march to lodge their complaints.
More than a dozen people were killed and thousands injured in the mayhem. Many Tamils say that Sri Lanka’s government has failed to bring to justice the army personnel, lawyers and judges who allegedly aided the conflict’s victors.
The Supreme Court ruling on the restrictions on non-resident Indian and Chinese citizens confirmed a decision by a lower court on the restrictions in August.
During the curfew, busloads of Indians and Chinese also tried to cross the border in their cars and scuffles broke out between police and passengers.
“This is a hopeful moment for us,” Kumaran N. Wickramasinghe, president of the Sri Lanka-India Chamber of Commerce said. “The Indian investors and community will now be more confident in coming to Sri Lanka.”
But many Tamils are still unhappy with the government’s actions, and foreign observers have urged the Tamils to accept the resolution of the long-standing differences.
Dr. Solanga Waidoo, an analyst with the Institute of Conflict Management said he expects the Indian and Chinese communities to be focused on long-term investment and cooperation rather than direct conflict with the Sri Lankan government.
“We will be seeing more political dialogue than military support from India or China to our immediate neighbors,” he said.
The country’s tourism industry has seen a jump in Chinese and Indian tourism coming to the island after the conflict. In 2011, Chinese tourist arrivals to Sri Lanka were nearly equal to the total number of foreigners.
More than 1.4 million Indians visited Sri Lanka last year, an increase of 40 percent compared to 2011.