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Desertion plagues oversized Lankan army

The Sri Lanka army (SLA) has stepped up efforts to tackle the high rate of desertion from its ranks.

world Updated: Feb 07, 2011 18:59 IST
Sutirtho Patranobis

The Sri Lanka army (SLA) has stepped up efforts to tackle the high rate of desertion from its ranks.

On Monday, 600 deserters responded to a call given by the army to apply for a clearance to either rejoin after being absent without leave or resign legally.

"This scheme was announced to coincide with the celebrations of the 63rd Independence Day on February 4. They (the deserters) have time till February 12 to respond. Today 600 responded at the various regimental headquarters across the country. We are still looking into the applications to find out how many want to rejoin," Major General Ubaya Medawala told Hindustan Times.

There are more than 50000 deserters from the army, which currently has 2.10 lakh personnel. "The number of desertion swelled through the years of the war. Most cases of desertions were because of personal reasons like family disputes. In some cases, the soldier didn’t have anyone to look after his family. We have had very few war-related psychological trauma cases; only about 120-odd cases," Medawala said.

During the war, the army also announced amnesty schemes for deserters who could resign without being punished.

But deserters who do not respond to the periodic schemes for legal discharge will be punished. Since November, 2010, the military police have arrested 10 officers and 4150 soldiers and booked them under the Army Act. "They will be tried under various sections of the Army Act like being absent without leave," the spokesperson said.

Medawala said there was no plan to downsize the army, which at 2.10 lakh is considered to be high for a country of 20 million people. Along with the navy, air force and police Sri Lanka has well over 3 lakh armed personnel.

"We will maintain it (the army) at the current strength," he said, adding that more personnel could now be deployed for peace missions abroad.

Currently, 1000 SLA soldiers are deployed in Haiti and another 150 in Lebanon. "Another 900 soldiers are being trained for deployment in African countries," Medawala said.