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 writes about his attempt to travel North to get to the church he was there to visit.
We couldn’t leave Batticaloa for Vavuniya until 8:00 a.m. when the army opened the road. We reached Vavuniya at 1:00 p.m. where we presented our pass to the military authorities. They searched the van and our luggage to be sure we weren’t carrying any of the items the government has restricted from the Northern Province. The search was not careful enough to find the video camera and battery packs I had in one of my bags. We were then escorted to the armies final check point just north of town. Side by side with the Sri Lankan army at the most northern check point were armed members of the anti-Tiger Tamil group, PLOT. These groups have attached themselves to the army.
We got to the check point about 3:30 in the afternoon and they had already closed the road with two heavy railroad rails. The soldiers were willing to let us cross into the North but they weren’t going to help us move the rails. We waited until a bus load of people arrived who then helped us move the rails and get our vehicle through. There is about a mile and a half of no man’s land between the army and the Tiger’s check point. Most people have to travel this no man’s land on foot, carrying their luggage. The AK-47 toting cadre that manned the LTTE check point looked to be in their midteens. We registered and proceeded north.
Bicycles passed our van as we crept between the potholes in first gear. Much of the road between Vavuniya and Kilinochchi shows a decade of neglect. We also saw the result of years of hard fighting. In 1988 Mankulam had been an active market town, but it also had a large military base. In 1991 a suicide bomber, called a Black Tiger, had driven a truck filled with explosives up to the main gate of the base and set the bomb off. The LTTE captured the base. The crater left by the truck bomb was left unfilled in the middle of the road as a kind of memorial to the driver. Every building in the center of Mankulam was a bombed out shell. Nothing had been rebuilt because of the government’s restrictions on building materials. There had been no electricity in the Northern Province for the last three years. Only a few of the bombed out building held meager shops selling goods at twice what they cost in Vavuniya.
We arrived in Kilinochchi after dark. Our intention was to cross the lagoon to Jaffna, but we discovered that the boats weren’t going to be running that night. Kilinochchi was filled with people; it being the staging area for goods and people who wanted to cross the lagoon that separated the Jaffna Peninsula from the rest of Sri Lanka. The causeway that connected the two had been closed at Elephant Pass where the Tigers surrounded one of the few remaining government military bases in the North. A ferry crossing had been at Pooneryn, but there was a military base there as well, closing that route to Jaffna, so the Tigers opened a boat service for the civilians. The Government declared the lagoon closed, trying to isolate the Tiger stronghold on the peninsula. Navy gunboats attacked these civilian boats when they could get through their Tiger guards. When this happened the boat service would close down for a time or perhaps move to a new beach.
Generators provided electricity for a few stores around the square in Kilinochchi. There was an ice cream shop, where for a very inflated price you could get a small bowl of what passed for ice cream. One of the buildings had a pair of loud speakers from which it continually played patriotic Tiger songs. This was the administrative office for the LTTE, where a line of people were asking about the time the boats might run again. The town was filled with people, many having no place to stay while they waited to cross. We stayed the night at a boys home run by the Jaffna Diocese. That was the first night we heard shelling.
-Rev. Paul “Chip” Jahn