Sri Lanka launches offensive against army deserters

Last Updated: Fri, Feb 05, 2010 10:50 hrs

Sri Lankan police and troops began a crackdown Friday against thousands of military deserters after a large number failed to heed a surrender call, military officials said.

Some 1,400 soldiers who were absent without leave turned up at military camps Thursday to take advantage of an amnesty declared to coincide with Sri Lanka's national holiday marking the island's 1948 independence.

But thousands more were still listed as deserters, a military official said.

"From today (Friday), the army and the police will step up search operations to arrest deserters," the official, who declined to be named, said.

Military spokesman Udaya Nanayakkara confirmed that 1,422 troops who were listed as deserters surrendered Thursday but added others were yet to respond.

In a bid to clean up its rolls, Sri Lanka's military formally discharged last October nearly 25,000 army, navy and airforce personnel who deserted at the height of fighting with Tamil rebels.

But since then more troops have left the security forces without permission.

The clean-up of the military rolls came after government forces defeated the Tamil Tiger separatists in May 2009 following decades of bloody ethnic conflict.

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.

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