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Armed Forces - Personnel

The regular forces of the army, navy, and airforce were recruited by voluntary enlistment. Despite the influence of Buddhist pacifist traditions, the prestige of government service and the possibility of a stable income have insured a sufficient flow of new recruits into the three services even prior to the establishment of a national draft in 1985. As a result of stringent Sinhala language requirements, noncommissioned (NCO) ranks of all services were virtually all Sinhalese.

In the army, regular enlisted personnel were required to sign contracts that were renewable after the fifth and twelfth years of service. Renewal was contingent on the receipt of good performance ratings. After twenty-two years of service, individuals became eligible for pensions, and in the 1980s the average age of retirement for the enlisted ranks was forty-two. After completing regular service, recruits were required to fulfill seven years of obligatory service in the reserves. Officers were allowed to serve in each rank for a specified number of years, after which they had either to qualify for the next higher rank or retire. Because of the small number of positions available at the higher levels, most officers were forced to leave the service at about forty-five years of age.

Separate recruiting was conducted for the First Commando Regiment of the army. Applicants for NCO positions had to be single and between eighteen and twenty-two years old, and must have passed the Ordinary Levels of the General Common Entrance examination in six subjects. Candidates were offered the possibility of specialized training overseas in such fields as intelligence, parachuting, and dog handling. Within the navy, the small size of the total force enabled the leadership to remain highly selective in its recruitment, and naval personnel had a uniformly high literacy rate. Recruits committed themselves to ten years of obligatory service.

After retiring from active service, officers and enlisted personnel reportedly had considerable difficulty finding suitable employment. Priority placement in civil service jobs, commonly offered under the British administration, was no longer available to military retirees in the 1980s, and former officers spoke out with bitterness on the failure of the nation to repay its soldiers for their years of service. In addition, military pensions reportedly have not kept pace with inflation.

In October 1985, the Parliament passed the Mobilization and Supplementary Forces Act, which gave the government the power to draft citizens into the National Armed Reserve. Under this law, the prime minister, with the approval of Parliament, was authorized to conscript Sri Lankan citizens eighteen years or older for one year of basic training and a total of ten years of reserve service. Under normal conditions, reserves could be called into active service for up to twenty-one days per year. At the request of the president, however, reserves could be deployed in active service for an indefinite period of time in the event of a war or "in the prevention or suppression of any rebellion or insurrection or other civil disturbance."

At independence the government inherited from the British a military establishment that was neither ethnically nor religiously representative of the population at large. Minorities, for example, were heavily overrepresented in the officer corps. Christians, who comprised about 8 percent of the population, accounted for about 50 percent of all officers. Ethnically, Tamils and Burghers, who together comprised less than 20 percent of the population, accounted for 40 percent of the officer corps.

This unbalanced representation was the result of a number of deliberate policies and incidental developments under the British. As in India, the colonial government in Sri Lanka tended to favor certain minorities in the selection of both military and civil service posts. In addition, the greater willingness of the Tamils to attend Christian missionary schools gave them the advantage of knowing the language, faith, and value system of the colonial administration. These Christian schools were also more likely than their Buddhist counterparts to offer rigorous physical training; the student cadet corps that were common in the colonial tradition were anathema to the Buddhist pacifist orthodoxy. Finally, the largely Westernized Burgher population adapted more easily to the social and public values of a colonial force.

In the first few years of independence, the high representation of Christians and minorities in the military leadership was fully in step with the political currents of the time; the governments of Don Stephen Senanayake and Sir John Kotelawala were dominated by a Westernized elite that preached accommodation with all ethnic groups. Starting in the mid-1950s, however, a new Sinhalese and Buddhist nationalism turned increasingly against the British-sponsored elite of the colonial period. Within the government, this tendency was reflected in the victory of S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike in the 1956 elections. In the military, however, changes were much more gradual; most of the commissions that had become available in the newly created services were already filled, and the relatively young army had few officers approaching retirement age. As a result, this period was marked by an increasing strain between the civil and the military authorities.

The government's program of nationalization and its attempt to establish a privileged place for Buddhism and the Sinhala language caused increasing conflict around the island. In January 1962, several high-ranking military officers were arrested and accused of planning a coup d'tat. They reportedly had planned to restore order by detaining a number of prominent left-wing politicians from the Bandaranaike coalition and returning the UNP to office. By the time the conspiracy was made public, the original plans had already been abandoned. Nonetheless, the Bandaranaike government used the potential threat to bolster its pro-Buddhist campaign, making political capital from the fact that all of the conspirators had been Christians.

Despite the initial resistance from a number of military officers, the government succeeded gradually in recasting the armed forces in its own image. Recruitment at all levels became increasingly dominated by Sinhalese Buddhists, and by mid-1983 Tamils accounted for less than 5 percent of all military personnel. Military training that previously had been conducted in a variety of languages was now limited to Sinhala and English. Also, under the leadership of S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike, the army was supplemented with the new Sinha Regiment, whose name and unprecedented lack of regimental colors stood in clear opposition to the British colonial regalia of the Ceylon Light Infantry. Even the Light Infantry took on a new Sinhalese cast when in 1961 it adopted an elephant named Kandula as its regimental mascot; as the Times of Ceylon was quick to point out, Kandula was the battle elephant of Dutthagamani (or Duttugemunu), the ancient Sinhalese king who was credited with driving the Tamils out of Sri Lanka in the second century BC.

The Sinhalization of the armed forces continued under the United National Party government of President Jayewardene. The retirement of the British-educated cadre of Tamil and Burgher officers gradually depleted the ranks of minority members. At the same time, the growing ethnic divisions in the country and the deployment of the armed forces against the Tamil population in the Northern Province tended to discourage young Tamil males from pursuing a career in the military. By the mid-1980s almost all enlisted personnel in the armed services were Sinhalese.

In November 2011 the government decided to de-list around 60,000 army deserters in the country due to involvement of so many army deserters in serious crimes in the recent past. A special program was introduced by Army Commander Lieutenant General Jagath Jayasuriya. Around 60,000 army personnel who had deserted the service since 1982 were categorized into four groups for de-listing. The first category consisted of about 55,000 deserters without any financial or logistical obligations to the army who were sent notices by the army informing that they have been de-listed from the service. Around 4,500 with financial or material obligations to the army fell into the second category and once they obtrained clearance by settling the dues they too would be de-listed. The other two categories consisted around 500 ex-servicemen wanted by the police and courts for involvement in criminal activities out of which about 25 are hard core deserters wanted for committing grave crimes upon whome legal action would be instituted by both, Police ad Army.

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Page last modified: 11-04-2017 18:45:54 ZULU