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Wednesday, May 5, 1999 Published at 15:00 GMT 16:00 UK


World: South Asia

Sri Lankan army seeks Tamil recruits

The Sri Lankan army is predominantly Sinhalese

The Sri Lankan army has started a recruitment drive in a former Tamil Tiger stronghold in the hope of enlisting Tamil soldiers.

It has taken out newspaper advertisements in the northern Jaffna peninsula, but despite offering large salaries not one person has yet asked for an interview.


Susannah Price: "Tamils don't want to fight the Tigers"
The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) held the peninsula for five years, but it was retaken by the mainly Sinhalese government forces in 1996.

Army spokesman Brigadier Sunil Tennakoon said he did expect Tamil youth to join.

"I should have some details later," he said.


[ image: The Tigers are fighting for a separate homeland]
The Tigers are fighting for a separate homeland
But Tamil analysts say at a time when even Sinhala youth do not want to join the army, few Tamils will sign up.

The drive, to last until later this month, is the first since the conflict between the government and the Tamil Tigers, broke out in 1983.

Officials have said they want to improve the ethnic mix of the army, and Tamil soldiers could help operations in the north and east where the local population is Tamil.

Security checks

The army also wants to bolster morale, and replace some 20,000 deserters.

Although there are no rules barring Tamils from the army, very few have joined in the past 10 years due to the conflict, which has claimed tens of thousands of lives.

There are a number of Tamil officers.

The army has promised thorough security checks to prevent any infiltration by the rebels.

The BBC Colombo Correspondent, Susannah Price, says there are unlikely to be many new recruits, as even though many Tamils may not agree with the rebels, any Tamil army recruits would be branded as traitors by their community.

No major battles have been reported since last September, when Tamil rebels captured the key northern town of Kilinochichi.

The army has since gained fresh ground without many casualties.





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