The following post is from a thesis, “Search For a New Model,” written by Rev. Paul “Chip” Jahn in the late 1990′s. Over the next few days, we’ll post some excerpts that give insights into his thoughts and experiences as he began his mission of Just Peacemaking in Sri Lanka. Here, Chip talks about his arrival in the Sri Lankan capital of Columbo.
Arrival in Sri Lanka
I arrived in Columbo on May 5, four days after the assassination of the country’s president, Ranasinghe Premadasa. This came just a week after the assassination of the president’s political rival, Lalith Athulathmudali. Government spokesman credited the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam with both of these killings.
It was the day before the funeral. The country was put under an evening curfew and there was a heavy military presence in the streets of Columbo. Many Tamils left Columbo for the week between Premadasa’s assassination and funeral fearing there would be riots similar to those in 1983. However, no incidents of violence were reported around the funeral, which fueled the speculation that the riots had been politically orchestrated in 1983. It was also evident that there were many Sinhalese that didn’t grieve Premadasa’s death.
Bishop Ambalavarnar and Dr. Jebanesan had both intended to meet me in Columbo, but with the death of President Premadasa they had had to return to Jaffna. They were concerned that travel to and from the Northern Province might be restricted. Last minute preparations needed to be made for Dr. Jebanesan’s installation as the new bishop of the Jaffna Diocese, which would take place May 30 in Madras, India. I talked to them both by phone while they were in Vavuniya. They asked if I would try to get to Jaffna. I said I would try.
I planned to travel with Robin Gibson through areas most effected by the recent fighting between the Tigers and the Sri Lankan Army. As I waited for Robin to arrive in the country, I met with representatives of human rights organizations to become more familiar with the changing political landscape after Premadasa’s assassination. I met with members of the Jaffna Diocese of the Church of South India to discuss the partnership with the In-Ky Conference. I also had an opportunity to meet with Ben Bovinck, a long time worker in the Sri Lankan National Christian Council. Ben advised me to attempt to reach the Northern Province, saying that it is very difficult to interpret the situation without talking to people in Jaffna.
Tuesday, May 11. Robin Gibson, Tyrol Ferdinands, director of the Sri Lanka NCC’s Office for Justice and Peace, and I left Columbo and drove east spending that first night in Kandy. We spent the next two and a half days in the Eastern Province. A good deal of the fighting had gone on in this area during the previous three years. The Eastern Province is a arid contrast to the western coastal region and the central mountains. It has been populated by alternating Tamil, Muslim and Sinhalese villages, Now military outposts separate these villages. Traveling through the East was excruciatingly slow and difficult due to the numerous check points. Every few miles vehicles were stopped, the people told to get out and walk through the check point. They then waited while their vehicle were searched.
- Rev. Paul “Chip” Jahn