Army on drive to downsize strength

The Sri Lanka Army has launched a drive to downsize its strength and keep it at a viable level in keeping with peace-time needs, a senior military officer said. Military spokesman Ubaya Medawela said the Army would be pruned to 200,000 or less from its current strength of 220,000.

He said several officers and soldiers had been taking early retirement since the war ended in May 2009. As part of the downsizing drive, the Army on Friday initiated a programme to allow deserters to formally quit the service without being arrested or penalised.

“They have the opportunity to get what is due to them from the Army or pay back their dues and leave,” Maj. Gen. Medawela said. Under the new programme, deserters would be able to collect gratuity payments if they had more than ten year’s service and if they had completed 22 years in service, they were also entitled to a pension, the spokesman said.

The programme would continue till February 12 and deserters would have to report to their regimental headquarters to get official clearance from the Army. Maj. Gen. Medawela, however, clarified that this was not a general amnesty. He said this was a special concession and the apprehension of deserters who failed to respond to this call would continue.

According to Army statistics, some 50,000 deserters are at large. The Army had arrested about 4,200 deserters since November 1, the spokesman said adding that some 1,500 deserters surrendered during the amnesty period granted last year coinciding with the Independence Day.

Since last year, the Army has stopped large-scale recruitment. “We don’t need as many personnel now but people are being recruited to fill the vacancies created by those leaving the force,” he said.

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