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Wednesday, 27 September, 2000, 13:08 GMT 14:08 UK
Vintage bargains in Sri Lanka
Old car driven through Jaffna
Jaffna has become a haven for old cars
By Alastair Lawson in Jaffna

If foreign vintage car collectors were allowed to travel to Sri Lanka's Jaffna peninsula they would be in seventh heaven.

Austins, Fords and Morris Minors which date back to the 1930s can all be seen here. Most are sold for less than $5,000 - a bargain price elsewhere.

But the fighting in the peninsula between the army and Tamil Tiger rebels means that the only foreigners allowed to visit are aid workers or the occasional journalist.

Old car parts
Old parts always useful
Because the Jaffna peninsula is cut off from the rest of government-controlled Sri Lanka - except by air and sea - local people have become adept at keeping old bangers on the road.

Mechanics work on cars that would have been abandoned in the west decades ago.

The few local people fortunate enough to own a private vehicle often treat it as their one luxury, in a part of the world where creature comforts are in short supply.

A vintage BSA
Dr Umaganthan' BSA
Dr E Umaganthan typifies this attitude. In 1951 his father bought a Fiat 111 for 1,650 rupees - a tiny sum. Two years later he bought a 1947 BSA motorcycle.

Dr Umaganthan inherited them both, and daily polishes his car in addition to carrying out basic servicing at home.

He has now passed the motorbike on to his son.

No exports

Many of Jaffna's vintage vehicles have been converted to run on kerosene because petrol is in such short supply.

Foreigners can't export Jaffna's vintage cars
A vintage Austin
Some of the few foreigners allowed to visit the peninsula have tried to ship old cars out of the country.

But in recent years that has become impossible. Most airborne and maritime traffic is used to carry troops, military vehicles or essential supplies for the civilian population.

Many local people complain that all too often the army confiscates their vehicles because of what the military call the emergency situation in Jaffna.

The new military commander in Jaffna, General Anton Wijendra, has pledged to do all he can to bring this practice to a halt.

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26 Sep 00 | South Asia
Army claims new Jaffna advances
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