Deserter obduracy gets amnesty extension

[TamilNet, Wednesday, 14 March 2001, 18:48 GMT]
The Sri Lanka army extended until midnight Thursday 15 March a general amnesty for thousands of its deserters who are still at large. An amnesty was announced in January this year and another from 6 March to Wednesday 14 midnight. Frequent amnesties, harsh measures against businesses employing deserters, search operations by Police and exhortations and pleas by leading Buddhist priests have brought few deserters back to the ranks. Military analysts say that 15000 to 20000 deserters are at large at any given time. According to a report in the Colombo press, at least 7000 soldiers deserted their units with weapons. Police point the finger at these for the growing crime rate and the rise of well-armed underworld gangs in many parts of the island, mainly in the capital Colombo.

Many deserters who report back are retrained, re-oriented and sent the Jaffna whence they cannot desert again as there is no land route from the northern peninsula to the other parts of the island (air and sea transport is controlled by the Sri Lankan security forces).

The army, availing itself of the extended ceasefire unilaterally declared by the Liberation Tigers in December 2000, is putting its troops through retraining programs to improve their combat efficiency and motivation. The program is coupled with a major re-organisation of its units, including some divisions.

The SLA says this is aimed at eventually organising its divisions into corps, provided that it is able to gather adequate manpower through recruitment and amnesties for deserters.

An ambitious recruitment campaign earlier this year spearheaded by Sri Lanka’s hawkish Prime Minister Ratnasiri Wickremanayaka did not yield the desired result, despite his Sinhala nationalist rhetoric, patently intended to inspire patriotic sentiments among Sinhala youth.


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