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Desertion: Lankan army’s greatest enemy

Locked in a pitched battle with the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, the Sri Lankan army continues to grapple with a problem within ranks — desertion, reports Sutirtho Patranobis.

world Updated: Aug 10, 2008 22:38 IST
Sutirtho Patranobis

Locked in a pitched battle with the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), the Sri Lankan army (SLA) continues to grapple with a problem within ranks — desertion.

On Saturday, the SLA withdrew an amnesty scheme it had offered to deserters earlier this year. The announcement was made to send a stern message to the thousands who went on leave but failed to return to their regiments: return immediately or face a jail term ranging from six months or more depending on the time that the soldier kept away. After the SLA statement, more than 12,000 soldiers and a handful of officers in the army face punitive action.

Military spokesperson Brigadier Udaya Nanayakkara said the amnesty was extended in April. “We had requested through the media that the soldiers return. More than 1700 had returned. We also arrested about 1600. They would be jailed according to the court-martial procedures,’” he told HT, adding that currently there were about 1.6 lakh personnel in the army. Nanayakkara said most soldiers desert because of ``personal reasons’’, claiming that fear factor or fatigue were not the main reasons.

A study conducted by the Peradeniya University few years ago had identified factors like poor leadership, enlistment of unsuitable officers, bad administration, insufficient training, lack of a strategy to retain the cadres, family and personal problems for desertions.

“Those who return undergo counselling sessions before they are sent back to their regiments,’’ Nanayakkara said, adding that they are also interviewed by seniors to find out the reasons for desertion.