Feature Article

SLA recruits, readying for closer ties with India

[TamilNet, Tuesday, 16 December 2003, 14:09 GMT]
The Sri Lanka army has begun another recruitment drive for its commando regiment in the Sinhala majority districts of the island, promising good pay and attractive perks, sources in Colombo said Tuesday. The recruitment drive comes amidst indications that India would provide greater training facilities for Sri Lankan armed forces under a defence cooperation treaty which Colombo and New Delhi are expected to sign soon.

Colourful posters, urging potential recruits to join up the SLA commandos and giving dates and venues of interviews during December 2003, have been put up mostly in rural Sinhala areas.

An SLA Commando Regiment recruitment poster on a road side shop in the Polannaruwa district

President Kumaratunga took over the Ministry of Defence in November, accusing Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe’s government of seriously jeopardising national security.

Hit by endemic desertions and nudging by western donors to create a smaller but efficient cost effective force, the Sri Lanka army is keen to enhance and improve its commando regiment and special forces battalions that bore the brunt of the 20 year war with the Liberation Tigers. Unlike the other formations of the SLA, the Commando Regiment recruits directly into its ranks.

Despite substantial and sophisticated US training input, the SLA’s Special Forces and commandos were repeatedly battered and mauled by the LTTE infantry, leading to depletion in the ranks of the elite units of the SLA, including the Commando Regiment.

The units have also been hit by desertion since Colombo signed a ceasefire agreement with the Liberation Tigers last year.

President Kumaratunga and Sinhala nationalists accuse Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe of having deliberately neglected the Sri Lankan armed forces to appease the Liberation Tigers.

SLA Soldiers
SLA soldiers (Library photo)

They also charge that his government is conspiring with the US and its allies to undermine the national security interests of Sri Lanka and India.

The Sri Lanka army, under increasing US Special Forces influence since 1997, focussed on training and developing new airborne and mechanised special units to form its core. The US army’s Pacific Command also developed closer links and cooperation with the Sri Lanka army’s officer corps and intelligence.

The proposed Defence Cooperation Agreement between Colombo and New Delhi is intended and designed to build greater ties between the armed forces and officer corps of India and Sri Lanka in many areas, particularly and importantly in training and intelligence sharing, diplomatic sources in Colombo say.

“The agreement will act as a check on US military and intelligence influence in Sri Lanka”, a Sinhala political analyst close to President Kumaratunga’s People’s Alliance told TamilNet.

“It would provide an institutional framework for the Sri Lankan army, particularly the Special Forces and the Commando Regiment to learn from the Indian army’s long experience in counter insurgency and jungle warfare. It would be much closer to our reality than what we got from the US military”, a retired SLA officer told TamilNet, commenting on the proposed India Lanka Defence Agreement.

Tamil politicians, however, charge that Colombo’s eagerness to sign the agreement calls into question its bona fides and undermines the trust necessary to sustain the peace process.

India is currently negotiating the Defence Cooperation Treaty with several countries in many parts of the world. Singapore signed the agreement with India in October this year. It is the first country in ASEAN to sign such a pact with India. Singapore’s Defence Minister Mr. Teo Chee Hean and his Indian counterpart, Mr. George Fernandes, signed the agreement in Delhi in October.

“The agreement will pave the way for the armed forces of Singapore and India to co-operate in many areas, including exchange of military personnel and the sharing of intelligence in the war against terrorism”, Singaporean government officials said.

“Singapore is also keen to explore access to India's training areas and to hold joint army and air force exercises under the agreement”, they said.


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