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Sri Lanka steps up drive to arrest 50,000 army deserters

COLOMBO, Tuesday 14 December 2010 (AFP) - Sri Lanka's security forces have stepped up a campaign to arrest some 50,000 military deserters, an official said Tuesday after reports that absent soldiers were increasingly involved in crime.

Military spokesman Ubaya Medawala said there the amnesty period for deserters to surrender had run out and they would be tracked down, arrested and prosecuted.

"Approximately there are 50,000 deserters and we are now taking steps to arrest them," Medawala said. "Depending on their record while in service and thereafter, we will decide whether to prosecute or recommend rehabilitation."

Medawala said there had been no significant change in the pattern of desertions despite the end of hostilities with Tamil Tiger rebels in May last year.

Even though fighting has ended, the military still wants to recruit new troops to fill vacancies in the 200,000-strong army and deploy them in areas of the north and east captured from the Tamil rebels.

Official records show that military deserters are increasingly involved in crime.

Police and security forces fought running battles with an underworld gang in the central part of the country last week and found that four out of six gang members had been soldiers who had left the army without permission.

Sri Lanka's military has been facing a serious problem of troops deserting and there had been several amnesties as well as crackdowns.

MySinchew 2010.12.14

 

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