“Taking the message of peace and love to the North”
By air, sea and now the land route (A9) to Jaffna
I had gone to Jaffna several times by air to treat the military casualties at the Palaly Base Hospital situated in the High-Security Zone in Palaly, Jaffna. I had also travelled to Jaffna by sea to help the medical students at the Faculty of Medicine of the University of Jaffna. But never have I been to Jaffna by road even before the war. The main route to Jaffna called the A9 was not accessible since 1983 due to the civil war in Sri Lanka. People living in Jaffna had alternate routes of travel out of the Jaffna peninsula such as the ‘Kilali route’, but this was dangerous in many ways and I would have never attempted going that way.
Cessation of hostilities
The signing of the Norwegian brokered Ceaseﬁre Agreement (CFA) in February 2002 by the two parties to the conflict led to the cessation of hostilities. This paved the way for the opening of the A9 beyond Vavuniya, the main road to Jaffna through the Wanni with the movement of trafﬁc in both directions. Although there were restrictions, barriers, checkpoints and border crossings, it was safe to travel on this road to Jaffna and no doubt the best time to travel through “Tiger Territory” in the Wanni to get a glimpse of what was going on in this war-torn region. Once again the opportunity came my way and I had no hesitation to accept the invitation to travel to Jaffna on the A9.
The invitation by a Catholic Priest
The late Rev. Fr. Gilbert Perera OMI, was the parish priest of Polonnaruwa during the period that I worked in that District. We developed a very close friendship. I moved out of Polonnaruwa and Fr. Gilbert moved out of Polonnaruwa to Anuradhapura and was appointed the Diocesan Director of an organization called Caritas for the Diocese of Anuradhapura.
- This organization was started by a German in 1897
- It is named after a Latin word meaning love and compassion
- Aims to strengthen the human family with love, end poverty, promote justice and restore dignity,
- It is one of the largest aid and development agencies in the world
Fr. Gilbert negotiated with the Diocesan Director of Caritas in Jaffna and organized a live-in family program with a few families in Jaffna. The aim of this program was for the people in the South to interact with those in the North and build bridges of friendship amongst them to promote love, peace and harmony in war-torn Sri Lanka.Rev Fr. Gilbert extended an invitation to me to join a group of sixty parishioners from Anuradhapura in this peace-making venture travelling to war-torn Jaffna. I accepted the invitation without any hesitation. Rev. Fr. Gilbert too was happy!
Prior arrangements were made with our friends in the Sri Lanka Army who were notified about our trip. We were advised to carry with us our national identity cards together with photocopies of this document as well as copies of important documents of the two vehicles. The Officers of the Sri Lanka Army not only eased our passage at the Army checkpoints and border crossings but were also kind enough to provide breakfast to the entire group. No such arrangements could be made with the ‘Tigers’ but we were travelling with a catholic priest and expected some preferential treatment for the group at their checkpoints. Did our expectations come true?
Anuradhapura to Jaffna
Date – 5th July 2002
Distance -198 km
Time of departure -5AM
Vehicles – Bus and a Jeep
NO MAN’S LAND
After passing through the first ‘border crossing’ we entered the “NO MAN’S LAND” and 600 metres beyond that was the first ‘border crossing’ on the side of the LTTE. Everyone was excited as we were slowly but surely entering “Tiger Land” and had no idea how we would be treated. But there was a Priest on our side and we expected them to treat us kindly. The language was a barrier too!
THE BORDER CROSSING TO ENTER ‘TIGER LAND’
Further North of Omantai at Puliyankulam
The LTTE office at the Puliyankulam border crossing
We had to hand over photocopies of our national identity cards together with copies of the motor vehicle revenue licence and insurance certificates. Following that procedure, we were given a permit to enter ‘Tiger Land’. Rev Fr. Gilbert was given preferential treatment and as such we did not have to spend much time at this border crossing.
Traffic moving towards Jaffna held up at some places because of broken roads with large craters in some places following the explosion of land mines. There were plenty of damaged homes and religious statues too.
Some photographs of the political office of the LTTE and the surrounding
The place where the foreign delegates met the ‘leader’.
As we travelled along the A9 north of EPS we reached the town of Pallali which was deserted and then it was the LTTE ‘border crossing’ on the northern side at Muhamalai where we had to produce the permit issued at the point of entry in Omantai. Beyond that was once again “no-man’s-land” and we reached the final ‘border crossing’ which was controlled by the Sri Lanka Army. The area beyond that was under the control of the army
MUHAMALAI TO CHAVAKACHERI
“Twenty years of war had left its indelible mark”
This was a region where heavy fighting had taken place during the civil war evidenced by the fact that the area was barren with no people to be seen. The coconut and palm trees were scorched by heavy weapon fire from artillery and multi-barrel launchers. The area had also been heavily mined and there were boards warning people not to step out of the road. De-mining too was in progress given the ceasefire.
As we entered the town of Chavakachcheri we saw more people but the damage caused by the civil war was seen all over. It was another 10 km to our destination the Northern city of Jaffna which we reached after nearly 12 hours of travel from Anuradhapura. But it was a trip full of adventure and unforgettable scenes of a war-torn region affecting the lives and livelihood of people living in that region and therefore the scenes were SAD TOO!
There were two days of activity in Jaffna. This consisted of meetings, fellowship, having meals together, peace-building sessions by experts in the field conducted in Tamil and Sinhala with the relevant translations. We also had time to visit some places of interest guided by our friends living in Jaffna. The people who went from Anuradhapura to Jaffna were cared for by the people in Jaffna and some were given accommodation and meals in their houses. This was a very welcome move for peace-building thus developing a close relationship although communication was difficult for some. No such program had been conducted earlier. After two days in Jaffna, the time had come to leave. But by then a close bond had been developed for more such attempts in the future and for a group from Jaffna to visit Anuradhapura which took place only to be destroyed by a recurrence of war.
THE DEPARTURE FILLED WITH TEARS FOR MANY
FROM THE NORTH AND THE SOUTH HOPING THAT THE WAR WOULD END SOON SO THAT PEOPLE FROM THE NORTH AND THE SOUTH CAN MEET FREELY AS CITIZENS OF ONE COUNTRY ONE NATION
BUT THE SITUATION CHANGED FOR THE WORSE… AND IT WAS ONLY AFTER THE END OF THE WAR IN MAY 2009 THAT I WAS ABLE TO VISIT THE WAR-TORN NORTH ONCE AGAIN TO SEE FOR MYSELF THE DAMAGE DONE.
More in my next story …
Dear Reader, If you haven’t read my earlier story, you can read by clicking this following link : “ELEPHANT PASS’
You also might be interested in watching some of our other photo gallery links are given here : ‘WAR FRONT – 1’ – ‘WAR FRONT – 2’ / ‘PHOTO GALLERY – PICTORIAL JOURNEY OF SURGERY’ / ‘MY LIFE’ / ‘SPORTS’