Passport

Too soon for the Sri Lanka puff pieces?

Sri Lankans head to the polls tomorrow for the country’s first presidential election since the crushing of the Tamil Tiger insurgency last November. The Tamil population, likely the swing voters in the race, are in the strange position of voting between two men who helped orchestrate the offensive, President Mahinda Rajapaksa and former Army Chief ...

S. KODIKARA/AFP/Getty Images
S. KODIKARA/AFP/Getty Images

Sri Lankans head to the polls tomorrow for the country’s first presidential election since the crushing of the Tamil Tiger insurgency last November. The Tamil population, likely the swing voters in the race, are in the strange position of voting between two men who helped orchestrate the offensive, President Mahinda Rajapaksa and former Army Chief Sarath Fonseka.

While the fighting may be over, Sri Lanka is still having a hard time escaping the legacy of the decades-long war. This month, the United Nations declared genuine a video showing extrajudicial executions by Sri Lankan troops, prompting a furious response from the government. Tens of thousands of Tamil refugees are still living in transit camps and those who have returned to their homes are struggling to rebuild their homes on meager resttlement packages from the U.N. Currently on ForeignPolicy.com, Samanth Subramanian discusses the fluid situation of Tamil refugees in India:

The continuing failure of these refugees to return is, in a way, a failure of the Sri Lankan political process itself — not to mention a humanitarian tragedy in which thousands of lives will be circumscribed by the borders of a camp well into the indefinite future.

According to figures compiled by the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), roughly 800 refugees returned to Sri Lanka from India in 2009 — most of them after the war ended in May and most of them individuals rather than families, often fishermen hurrying to resume their interrupted livelihoods. The vast majority still left are … still deciding what to do.

In fact, the only people who think that the situation has returned to normal in Sri Lanka may be U.S. travel writers. Here’s the New York Times‘  recent "31 Places to Go in 2010" package:

For a quarter century, Sri Lanka seems to have been plagued by misfortune, including a brutal civil war between the Sinhalese-dominated government and a separatist Tamil group. But the conflict finally ended last May, ushering in a more peaceful era for this teardrop-shaped island off India’s coast, rich in natural beauty and cultural splendors. …

Among the most scenic, if difficult stretches to reach, is Nilaveli Beach in the Tamil north. While a few military checkpoints remain, vacationers can lounge on poolside hammocks under palm trees or snorkel in its crystal-clear waters.

The lifestyle website Daily Candy also chimed in:

The civil war is mostly over, and Sri Lanka is now stable and safe — and as beautiful, tropical, and friendly as ever. The conflict was primarily in the north, and our itinerary will have you roaming the south for adventure (elephant safaris), history (colonial fort towns, old Buddhist temples), rain forests (and mountains and tea plantations), and gorgeous beaches.

"Really, there’s only one downside to Sri Lanka: Eventually, you have to leave," they write. I suppose they mean aside from the 100,000 people in refugee camps.

I’m not suggesting that travelers should have to agree with the policies of every country they visit or never visit places of recent castrophe (though I do think a Haitian cruise vacation right now would be a bit much) but responsible tourists should also be aware that just because there’s no more violence doesn’t mean that a country’s conflict is over. Hopefully Sri Lanka’s peace holds through this election and long into the future, but it does the country no service to sweep last year’s carnage under the rug.

Sri Lankans head to the polls tomorrow for the country’s first presidential election since the crushing of the Tamil Tiger insurgency last November. The Tamil population, likely the swing voters in the race, are in the strange position of voting between two men who helped orchestrate the offensive, President Mahinda Rajapaksa and former Army Chief Sarath Fonseka.

While the fighting may be over, Sri Lanka is still having a hard time escaping the legacy of the decades-long war. This month, the United Nations declared genuine a video showing extrajudicial executions by Sri Lankan troops, prompting a furious response from the government. Tens of thousands of Tamil refugees are still living in transit camps and those who have returned to their homes are struggling to rebuild their homes on meager resttlement packages from the U.N. Currently on ForeignPolicy.com, Samanth Subramanian discusses the fluid situation of Tamil refugees in India:

The continuing failure of these refugees to return is, in a way, a failure of the Sri Lankan political process itself — not to mention a humanitarian tragedy in which thousands of lives will be circumscribed by the borders of a camp well into the indefinite future.

According to figures compiled by the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), roughly 800 refugees returned to Sri Lanka from India in 2009 — most of them after the war ended in May and most of them individuals rather than families, often fishermen hurrying to resume their interrupted livelihoods. The vast majority still left are … still deciding what to do.

In fact, the only people who think that the situation has returned to normal in Sri Lanka may be U.S. travel writers. Here’s the New York Times‘  recent "31 Places to Go in 2010" package:

For a quarter century, Sri Lanka seems to have been plagued by misfortune, including a brutal civil war between the Sinhalese-dominated government and a separatist Tamil group. But the conflict finally ended last May, ushering in a more peaceful era for this teardrop-shaped island off India’s coast, rich in natural beauty and cultural splendors. …

Among the most scenic, if difficult stretches to reach, is Nilaveli Beach in the Tamil north. While a few military checkpoints remain, vacationers can lounge on poolside hammocks under palm trees or snorkel in its crystal-clear waters.

The lifestyle website Daily Candy also chimed in:

The civil war is mostly over, and Sri Lanka is now stable and safe — and as beautiful, tropical, and friendly as ever. The conflict was primarily in the north, and our itinerary will have you roaming the south for adventure (elephant safaris), history (colonial fort towns, old Buddhist temples), rain forests (and mountains and tea plantations), and gorgeous beaches.

"Really, there’s only one downside to Sri Lanka: Eventually, you have to leave," they write. I suppose they mean aside from the 100,000 people in refugee camps.

I’m not suggesting that travelers should have to agree with the policies of every country they visit or never visit places of recent castrophe (though I do think a Haitian cruise vacation right now would be a bit much) but responsible tourists should also be aware that just because there’s no more violence doesn’t mean that a country’s conflict is over. Hopefully Sri Lanka’s peace holds through this election and long into the future, but it does the country no service to sweep last year’s carnage under the rug.

Joshua Keating was an associate editor at Foreign Policy  Twitter: @joshuakeating