2008: The Sri Lankan army has a problem
with desertion. The largely Buddhist country has never been known as warlike. Seven
months ago there are about 20,000 deserters on the books. In the past, the army
has managed to get deserters to return by offering an amnesty. Five years ago,
the army had 51,000 deserters, and an amnesty cleared most of those. A few
months ago, another amnesty was offered, and about 8,000 deserters returned to
duty, or were officially discharged. But now the army is doing something rare,
it is sending military and civilian police to go find the remaining 12,000
deserters, and bring them in. Most will be discharged, some of those still fit
for service, will be offered another chance to finish their military obligation.
cause of the desertion is the 25 years of fighting with Tamil rebels. This has
killed over 70,000 Sri Lankans. About a
third are Tamils (who are 18 percent of the population), most of the rest are
soldiers. Since the army was only about 150,000 strong, when the heaviest
fighting took place in the last decade, it's no wonder so many recruits changed
their minds about being in the army.
Lankan army has always been an all-volunteer force. But once you are in, you
are obliged to stay in as long as your contract specifies. If you leave before
that time is up, you are classified as a deserter. In the past, the army did
not make a big effort to hunt down deserters and bring them back. That would
have caused civil unrest.
solution has been victory in combat. And that's what the army has been doing
for the past year. Nothing succeeds like success. The generals have been
keeping army casualties down, while killing lots of the enemy. So a record
number of deserters are returning, and those who refused to come back are being
arrested, without much risk of civil disorder over the matter.