Jaffna city turned into a ghost town with the curfew clamped this week and the sound of artillery shells bursting everywhere brought back memories of the pre-ceasefire era when the town suffered heavy damages and casualties from a protracted war.
The villagers in the peninsula as well as those living on the islands were experiencing a repetition of an earlier era when residents were hit by similar food and fuel shortages with the supply of electricity severely curtailed.
The current shortages were the first in more than four years after the cease-fire came into effect in February 2002 during which the peninsula had not been affected by any prolonged curfew as experienced this week. The exchange of artillery fire between the government and the LTTE or incidents of aerial bombardment were events unheard of or unseen if at all.
With the beginning of the current hostilities and the resultant refugee crisis where thousands of civilians are displaced and living in hastily set up temporary shelters and relief items not reaching those most in need, Jaffna Government Agent K. Ganesh on Friday made a fervent appeal to the government asking for food and fuel supplies to be sent urgently to the Jaffna peninsula.
Mr. Ganesh told The Sunday Times that 400 metric tonnes of food which was sent for families displaced by the tsunami was also being distributed to co-operative societies within the peninsula.
?Those were the last of the stocks available and I have appealed to the government for more stocks of food and fuel to be sent to Jaffna?, he said.
The curfew was relaxed for short periods but this was not sufficient for most people to purchase their provisions as the time allowed was not long enough or the food supplies had run out by the time the people arrived at food or fuel outlets or because sufficient stocks had not reached storekeepers due to hiccups in transport facilities.
At times when they did reach food or fuel outlets overcoming various obstacles many were disappointed to find the prices were much higher than anticipated, similar to the price levels when the A-9 road was closed and goods had to be smuggled into the peninsula or transported using circuitous routes.
The people were compelled to purchase their provisions paying Rs. 100 for a kilogram of rice, sugar at Rs. 150, flour and dhal at Rs. 100, while whatever the vegetables were priced at more than Rs. 100 a Kg. Coconuts were sold at Rs. 50 each and a bottle of kerosene at Rs. 200, Petrol was sold in bottles with each bottle priced at Rs. 300 and fish was a scarce commodity and at most times they were not available at all.
The closure of the A 9 road has also seriously affected the flow of supplies to the Jaffna peninsula with one of the reasons for the short supply being that some 750 lorries carrying much needed supplies held up at the Omanthai check point as the A 9 road was closed for exit and entry.
Among those worst affected have been some 200 expatriates who were holidaying in Jaffna at the time fighting between the government and the LTTE broke out and had to cut short their stay and fly out to the countries where they were residing to avoid disruption to their employment contracts.Residents in the area said during this month many devotees visit Jaffna to attend the Nallur Kovil festival which concludes next Tuesday. The festival ceremonies and rituals began on July 30 but had to be called off on August 10 after the fighting started.
With the telephone and power lines virtually down and out or out of commission most of the residents were also deprived of communicating with areas outside the peninsular or with each other.
Long queues were to be seen outside banks and Automatic Teller Machines with customers desperately scrambling to withdraw whatever little cash that was available at banks. This indicated that it was not only food and fuel that was in short supply but also ready cash.
Last week year-five students in the Jaffna peninusula were also deprived of sitting the scholarship examination which was held on Saturday.
Even as Jaffna residents` experience hardships those thirsting for news remain glued to battery operated radio sets for current news on the war situation.
A resident in a telephone conversation with The Sunday Times on Friday said several houses and buildings have been damaged most of them badly due to the shelling. Sadly though some of these houses and buildings had been only reconstructed or renovated after the 2002 cease-fire.
?Some parts of the Jaffna peninsula appeared to be in a pathetic state similar to what they were some 10 to 15 years ago during the height of the Eelam war,? the resident said.
Jaffna GA said the Jaffna hospital has been kept very busy these days with civilians injured in the shelling or caught in the crossfire being brought to the hospital at regular intervals.
He said some of the civilians were making hasty preparations to leave the Jaffna peninsula and move to Colombo no sooner the curfew was relaxed.
By Friday, members of some of the foreign and local non governmental organizations were expecting to move out of the peninsula, while at least 2,000 people comprising government servants, expatriate workers and businessmen trapped in Jaffna were also awaiting an opportunity to leave.
All in all residents in the peninsula are in a dilemma not knowing what the future holds for them after enjoying the benefits of a short-lived cease-fire which lasted for nearly four years and hoping against hope that a full scale war would be averted, good sense prevail among all communities and peace returns to this hallowed country of ours.