Sri Lankan army troopers patrol Sept. 18 in Jaffna. Security authorities said they are searching for 30,000 army deserters. (Lakruwan Wanniarachchi / AFP)
COLOMBO, SRI LANKA — Sri Lanka’s security authorities are searching for 30,000 army deserters nearly five years after ending a decades-long separatist war with Tamil Tiger guerrillas, the military said Saturday.
Police across the country have been told to track down deserters who failed to accept several offers of leniency, military spokesman Ruwan Wanigasooriya said.
“Out of nearly 60,000 listed as deserters, about half have responded and we are looking for the others,” Wanigasooriya told AFP. “Steps are being taken to arrest them.”
The defense ministry told parliament Friday there were 267 officers and 59,267 from other ranks listed as deserters, according to local media reports.
Wanigasooriya said the deserters had been in the military’s books for a long period of time. They will be off the military rolls after investigations, he said.
Mass desertions have plagued the Sri Lankan military before and since the defeat of the separatist Tamil Tigers rebels in May 2009, which ended 37 years of bloody warfare that claimed at least 100,000 lives, according to UN estimates.
The more than 200,000-strong army is still recruiting troops to fill vacancies and deploy forces in areas of the north and east captured from the rebels who ruled the area as a de facto state during the height of their power.