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Page last updated at 10:34 GMT, Thursday, 20 August 2009 11:34 UK

Sri Lankan army in refugee call

By Charles Haviland
BBC News, Colombo

Lieutenant-General Jagath Jayasuriya
The new army chief says this is the era of reconciliation

Sri Lanka's new army chief says the 250,000 people displaced by the recent conflict - currently in government camps - should be rapidly resettled.

Lieutenant-General Jagath Jayasuriya, appointed last month, admitted there were obstacles in the way of this.

The new army chief said the country was entering a new post-war era and that even if the military increased slightly in size, it would have to retrain.

The remarks appear to be more dovish than much of what has come out lately.

Playing down

Lt Gen Jayasuriya told the reporters that this was a new era of reconciliation, rehabilitation and reconstruction and that the army would have to retrain for peace time.

Manik Farm refugee camp (15 August 2009)
Nearly 250,000 people are still living in government camps

He appeared to play down remarks from his predecessor, Gen Sarath Fonseka - now overall armed forces chief - that the military might add up to 100,000 new men.

He said between 20,000 and 50,000 might join up but many of these would be to allow others to retire.

Describing the army's new role, Lt Gen Jayasuriya said: "Consolidate what is captured and ensure this type of thing won't arise again. So that is the main task.

"Then help in government, development and reconstruction. If we increase, it is mostly not the fighting type, it will be other tradesmen like construction, road and building reconstruction - because the army has a lot of tradesmen."

Gen Jayasuriya said the Tamil refugees interned by the government in camps should be resettled "as fast as possible".

He said the army was more than doubling its demining expertise to help this happen.

But, like ministers, he alleged that there were still "hard-core" Tamil Tiger members sheltering in the camps over and above the 10,000 or so who had admitted to being members.

Therefore, he said, careful screening of all these refugees must continue for now.

The army chief was asked whether he believed that there were still rebel operatives in other parts of Sri Lanka outside of the north.

He said he thought some such people had already been sent south "on suicide missions" before the war ended, but that their network had been broken and their leaders killed so they were no longer receiving instructions.



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