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Tuesday, October 13, 1998 Published at 17:18 GMT 18:18 UK


World: South Asia

Sri Lankan army hunts deserters

Army wants soldiers who have run away back on parade

By Colombo Correspondent Susannah Price

The Sri Lankan government has launched an island-wide operation to track down and arrest 15,000 deserters who are thought to have abandoned the security forces.

The military appears pleased with the success of the campaign so far. A spokesman said that in just five days more than 2,000 deserters had been arrested and local organisations were providing useful information as to the whereabouts of others.

The government has warned that it is an offence to hide deserters or give them jobs.

Amnesty

Earlier this year, the army commander, General Rohan Daluwatte said the main problem for the security forces was manpower and he offered an amnesty to those who had run away.

It now appears this was not successful.

The latest move to arrest the deserters follows some of the heaviest fighting in the 15-year-old war when the Tigers took the town of Kilinochchi during a surprise assault.

The Defence Ministry has said nearly 1,000 soldiers were killed or are missing as a result.

Deterring others

The campaign may be to deter any further soldiers from leaving the army especially as the troops will be needed to hold the town of Mankulam captured by the security forces as well as for any offences along the road to the north.

A military source said the deserters were hiding both in the rural areas and in the towns and it was often their families who persuaded them not to return to the front lines. Police say the deserters, who are usually armed, are responsible for an upsurge in looting, theft and other crimes.



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