Sri Lankan army starts fresh recruitment
Even as President Chandrika Kumaratunga was finalising a new government after her party won parliamentary elections last week, Sri Lanka's military announced a new recruitment drive on Thursday.
The army said it would begin interviews from May 5 to enlist men between the ages of 18 and 24, and promised the new recruits prospect of going abroad for United Nations peacekeeping duties.
"Upon recruitment to the Sri Lankan army, they are entitled to receive training both at local and foreign levels and contribute to UN-sponsored peacekeeping troops," the army said in a statement.
Sri Lanka is yet to contribute soldiers for UN peacekeeping operations.
Kumaratunga, who took over the defence portfolio in November, is set to announce her new cabinet in the next few days, officials said.
Last September the army extended a campaign to enlist 4,000 recruits following a disappointing response despite the announcement of a 55 percent salary increase.
The authorities were surprised that they were able to attract only 3,200 applicants, of whom only about 2,500 were qualified to join the Sri Lankan army.
The aim of the September drive was to bolster the strength of the military while removing some 56,000 deserters from its books amid a truce with Tamil Tiger rebels, officials said.
The discharging of deserters has begun in several districts, they said, adding that those who had been absent without leave for more than three years would not be taken back.
In recent years the annual desertion rate has been as high as 4,000, officials said.
The heavy military casualties during clashes with the rebel Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) left both sides finding it difficult to attract new recruits.
Both sides have been observing a truce arranged by peace broker Norway since February 2002.
The LTTE has admitted losing about 17,600 of its cadres since the first Tiger rebel was killed in November 1982 at the hands of the army, while security forces too have suffered similar fatalities during the same period.
More than 35,000 government troops and Tiger rebels are also estimated to have been wounded in the armed conflict which escalated in July 1983, but began in the early 1970s.
The total strength of the Sri Lankan military is estimated at about 150,000. While there are no reliable estimates for the strength of Tiger rebels, figures between 6,000 to 16,000 have been recently mentioned.