In Sri Lanka, the
army's amnesty program continues to perform well. In the last six months, over
4,000 deserters have reported back to their units and avoided prosecution.
The Sri Lankan army has long had a
problem with desertion. The largely Buddhist country has never been known as
warlike. At the beginning of the year, there were 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. This past Spring, another amnesty was offered, and by
Summer, 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. This search for deserters has
resulted in the arrest of over 3,000 troops, including 21 officers, being arrested.
The main 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.
The Sri 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.
A better 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.