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65,000 army deserters at large

Around 65,000 soldiers deserted their ranks during Sri Lanka’s brutal war against the Tamils and are at large, according a Sri Lankan Ministry of Justice and Law Reforms official.


The number, which indicated the brutality of the war in the last stages, is in addition to the 2,000 soldiers already in prisons across the south for deserting.

Since the Defence Ministry had stepped up arresting those who deserted the service the Prisons Department will definitely face a problem of space, Secretary to the Ministry of Justice and Law Reforms Suhada Gamlath told reporters.

Once an army deserter is captured he is produced for a Court Martial and usually sentenced to an imprisonment not exceeding one year.  However Gamlath says it is dangerous to put army deserters together with other criminals behind the bars.


"There is a dangerous problem of putting the army deserters with other criminals behind the bars. The criminals have the background, know how of crime and social deviance while the deserters have the training in firearms and many other skills that could be abused for the accomplishment in various crimes. Most of the time, prisons had served as linking grounds for them," Gamlath said.


"Therefore, we suggested that the term of the army deserters must be reduced to six months. Their energy could be used through methods such as community service as practiced in developed countries. We recommended that they should be allowed to engage in community service either for six months of their term or the entire term."


"This method is beneficial for all. For the convict, the department and the society. A Bill had been drafted and been presented for the Parliamentary approval after being endorsed by the Cabinet of Ministers," he said.


Prisons officials say out of the 31,653 prisoners in Sri Lanka, 37.5 percent are drug addicts and drug related offenders and 60 percent are those who have been prosecuted for offenses including rape, murder and other criminal activities. 

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