Strain shows at press conference
[TamilNet, Thursday, 15 October 1998, 12:59 GMT]
The SLA spokesman Brigadier Sunil Tennekoon told journalists at today's cabinet press briefing that a joint "project" by the army and Police to arrest 15000 deserters which was launched on October 7, has so far netted 2889 soldiers who have been absconding. He said 25000 soldiers had deserted the Sri Lankan security forces. He said that 14 thousand of these were arrested or returned to their units voluntarily.
When the project began on October 7, according to the spokesman, there were fifteen thousand deserters at large. He said that the army deserters were arrested with the help of Government Agents, Divisional Secretaries, village officials and volunteer organisations.
The arrested deserters will be given a brief physical and weapons training, their kits and other equipment before being sent off to their units. They will receive their pay and allowances from the day of their arrest said the Brigadier.
Minister for Justice and Constitutional Affairs Prof.G.L Pieris and Minister for Media Mangala Samaraweera were also present at the weekly briefing.
The Reuters correspondent pointed out that the government had violated two international conventions it has signed by the use it made of the Tigers whom the army says had surrendered to troops at Mankulam.
To this, the media minister retorted that the LTTE is an unconventional terrorist organisation to which such conventions are not relevant.
Another journalist then pointed out that the LTTE has not signed these conventions but the government is party to them; and so it was not correct for the minister to say so.
But Mangala Samaraweera refused to comment any further on the matter.
Journalists also raised a question on the discrepancy between the military spokesman's position that 400 of the bodies of the soldiers killed in Kilinochchi that were given by the LTTE through the ICRC had been identified and the Deputy Defence Minister's statement to Parliament that only 174 soldiers died in that battle.
Brigadier Tennekoon said that the ICRC gave the army 689 bodies. 400 of these were identified as those of Sri Lankan security forces personnel.
However, only the identities of 103 of these have been positively established, according to him.
The Deputy Defence Minister had stated his figures on this basis said the spokesman. He said that the others would be presumed missing in action for one year.
A journalist asked Minister for Constitutional Affairs and Deputy Minister for Finance Prof.G.L Pieris "The Deputy Minister for Defence said earlier that 96 percent of the war was over. The government allocated 44 billion rupees for defence spending last year. But it has allocated 55 billion this year. If there is only four percent of the war left to finish now, why do you need so much more money ?"
The minister was embarrassed by the question and attempted to evade it by saying that it is a military matter.
But the journalist pointed out that this was something stated by one of his (the minister's) cabinet colleagues.
Prof. Pieris fumbled his answer again by saying that the last stages of the war requires increased recurrent expenditures.
The journalist told the minister that the government had explained the large defence outlay in the budget last year in terms of funds required to buy equipment and that it was not possible to understand how so much budget money this year is needed to finish four percent of the war.