More Experiences in Rebel-Controlled Jaffna

More Experiences in Rebel-Controlled Jaffna

November 1994

Public Conveyance and Traffic Control

“The main objective of visiting Jaffna was to be an examiner at the Final MBBS examination for students of the Faculty of Medicine of the University of Jaffna. That was completed on 20th November. However, my return to Colombo by ICRC ship was scheduled only for the 25th of November. Therefore, I had plenty of time to participate in other activities and visiting places of interest in war-torn Jaffna. This was also an interesting period as it coincided with the Maveerar Naal (Great Hero’s Day) celebrations of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) which took place over a week culminating on the 27th November which incidentally is the day on which the first LTTE cadre died in combat in 1982”

It was a unique experience not only to see the modes of conveyance used by the people adapting themselves to the shortages, especially of fuel brought about by the economic embargo imposed on the North by the Government of Sri Lanka. This resulted in a scarcity of certain types of fuel like petrol and diesel which were supplied only to certain institutions providing essential services like hospitals and other Government institutions. The rebels had their way of getting what they wanted and were able to travel without any hindrance. Kerosene was the only fuel available to the civilians. There was only a limited supply and was distributed by the Co-operative stores to the civilians. The price of a litre of Kerosene was Rs 18/=. That was the regulated price, but they had to pay Rs 350/= to Rs 500/= per bottle. Almost every home had to depend on Kerosene for lighting their lamps at night and for other essential activities. This was brought about by the extensive damage to the Central Power Station of the Ceylon Electricity Board supplying power to the Jaffna city situated at Chunnakam which was in shambles as a result of the civil war.

There was also a scarcity of motor vehicles, buses, lorries, vans, etc. Those who had motor vehicles used them sparsely due to the scarcity of petrol and diesel. Others modified their vehicles to be driven by Kerosene.

How did the people get about?

Pedal Cycles and Motorcycles

Pedal cycles were in plenty throughout the city of Jaffna. That was the common mode of travel for people. It was relatively inexpensive. Even the doctors, including the consultants, travelled to the Jaffna hospital by pedal cycle and there was a special cycle stand at the hospital instead of a car park. There were also a few motorcycles on the road, but the pedal cycles far out-numbered the motorcycles. This was related to the depleted fuel supply in Jaffna.

The doctors including the few consultants in the hospital came to work in their pedal cycles even at night. No one complained and asked for official vehicles or an ambulance to reach the hospital. I salute them for their dedication to serving the people of Jaffna under trying conditions during the civil war.




Another interesting aspect that I witnessed in Jaffna

Look who is controlling traffic: Certainly not the Sri Lanka Police

Motor cars

I also had the opportunity of travelling in motor cars and three-wheeled taxis. But they were few. Most of the motor cars were old vehicles. The common ones seen on the road were the Morris Minor and Austin Cambridge. Many of these vehicles were parked opposite the Hospital.

Cars modified to start on Petrol, but run on Kerosene

I am sure before the onset of the civil war, cars used in Jaffna were running on petrol. But after the civil war, they were compelled to modify the cars to start on petrol thus conserving the petrol and run on kerosene thereafter. Thus they were able to conserve petrol which was in short supply. They had to overlook the problems of running with Kerosene: it is not clean, makes the engine less powerful, less efficient but able to run and that is what they wanted. As I was not aware of this system I gathered more details on how and why this is done.

Gasoline vehicles use internal combustion engines and typically uses a spark-ignited internal (SIS) combustion engine. In a SIS, the fuel is injected into the combustion chamber and combined with air the fuel-air mixture is ignited by a spark from the spark plug to start the motor vehicle.

CleanerLess refined
Vapourized easilyCombustion is not easy
Burns faster and completelyIgnites at a higher temperature
Relatively more effective

Because petrol vapourizes easily, it can start the engine in a spark-ignited internal combustion system. Thus, they were able to achieve their objective of running the vehicles although the engine was affected. They had no choice.

They adapted and devised practical methods. That was the beauty!

Another Breakdown but masters at modifying vehicles at work

Civilians vehicles modified as “Military Vehicles” were seen on the road on and off

The only vehicle that was available at the Faculty of Medicine of the University of Jaffna in 1994 was a three-wheeled taxi that was also made available to me to attend teaching sessions to the medical students in the hospital wards and other functions organised by the University including a series of lectures to junior students in the Faculty of Medicine.

These helped to develop good will with the staff of the faculty and others which I was sure would go a long way in achieving my objective of liberating the fishermen from LTTE custody.

Establishing contact with the leader of the LTTE through the doctors was not easy and I had to obtain the support of a negotiator to work secretly towards the liberation of the two fishermen in LTTE custody. My daily visit to the hospital ward was however re-assuring and they were kept in good spirits.

Giving time for negotiations to be successful, I engaged in other activities.

More about those in the next story…

Dear Reader, you might also like to read our next 2 stories, in the form of a photo galleries, Please click this link : ‘SHADOWS OF WAR – PART 1’ and ‘SHADOWS OF WAR – PART 2’

14 thoughts on “More Experiences in Rebel-Controlled Jaffna

  1. I love the simplicity with which you describe your activities in Jaffna. Sad that people have to live through war. Well done Dr. Goonetilleke!

  2. Thank you Gamini

    I’ve no words to express how I feel about your stories. I as a person lived during this period clearly understand the significance of your writing. Keep on writing How many of our contemporaries can recall their experiences like this Indrasiri

    On Tue, Mar 30, 2021 at 4:46 PM Gaminigoonetilleke wrote:

    > Gamini Goonetilleke posted: ” November 1994 Public Conveyance and Traffic > Control “The main objective of visiting Jaffna was to be an examiner at the > Final MBBS examination for students of the Faculty of Medicine of the > University of Jaffna. That was completed on 20th Novem” >

  3. Great story of yours. Reading your story made me feel sad that all the suffering was of no avail to the suffering public. These hardships as you have documented must be stored in a museum of war archives. Your pictures add meaning to the narrative.

  4. Thank you for writing about your experiences in Jaffna in the most turbulent period in the history of our Island Nation.
    “Whatsoever you do unto the least of my brothers that you do unto me”
    You are always mindful of the needs of others.
    “Many are called only a few are chosen””

  5. Your further experiences in war time Jaffna serves to highlight the conditions in Jaffna in 1994.
    It re-captures the ambience of an era where the civilians in Jaffna would have been subjected to so much suffering which they would have had to endure stoically.
    It also shows that through it all you have been well treated thereby allowing us to have an insight of what it was like to live under those conditions.

  6. It is painful in our 73rd year of Independence to reflect on what might or could have been

Leave a Reply