Sri Lanka abandons round-up of military deserters

By Charles Haviland
BBC News, Colombo

image captionThe size of the army has increased since the end of the war with the Tamil Tigers

The army in Sri Lanka says it is giving up a campaign to round up tens of thousands of deserters and will instead de-list or de-register them.

It says there are nearly 60,000 such deserters - an apparent increase of 10,000 in just under a year.

However, some of the deserters fled the forces many years ago.

A military spokesman said that the forces were now pursuing just a few dozen deserters who are thought to have committed serious crimes.


Since it defeated the Tamil Tigers two-and-a-half years ago, Sri Lanka has not demobilised its soldiers.

Saying the country still faces a security threat, it has instead increased the size of the army to more than 200,000.

Clearly, however, not all within the forces are happy with their situation and desertions have continued on a large scale.

Just 12 days ago an army spokesman said that about 60,000 deserters would be rounded up and apprehended.

Now, however, he has told the BBC that nearly all of them will instead be de-listed and will be able to term themselves "ex-soldiers" rather than deserters.

There have continued to be many reports of deserters suspected of involvement in violent crime - most recently in the killing of a well-known doctor and in a separate triple-murder case.

While the army says it will pursue the few suspected of serious offences, it appears the military wants to de-link itself from any association with such criminality and also let non-criminal deserters get on with their lives.

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