Sri Lankan police desert combat posts

[TamilNet, Tuesday, 01 July 1997, 23:59 GMT]
Sri Lankan policemen, pressed into combat duty in the island's north are deserting their posts en-masse, according to local newspapers and travelers from the area. The desperate shortage of troops is forcing the Sri Lankan military to use unwilling policemen to protect the operation's rear.

According to the Sinhalese newspaper, the Sunday Leader, when the LTTE stormed a Sri Lankan fire-base near Omanthai a week ago, 250 Sinhalese policemen deployed on guard duty nearby, fled to Vavuniya, several miles deep inside Sri Lankan army occupied territory.

Some 200 returned to their bunkers when the army promised to deploy troops alongside them, according to the paper. The remainder have resigned and returned to the south said the paper, adding that they were to be charged with cowardice.

Three weeks ago, when the LTTE stormed the Thandikulum base, hundreds of Sinhalese policemen fled the area, along with nearby Tamil residents. Civilians said many policemen discarded their uniforms and equipment and donned sarongs in an attempt to blend into the civilian crowd.

Even before the recent operation commenced, several hundred policemen flatly refused to serve on guard duty to protect the Vavuniya-Mannar road, occupied by the Sri Lankan army in an operation largely ignored by the Tigers.

Sri Lankan policemen are armed with automatic weapons and operate as combat troops in the Sri Lankan government's war in the Tamil homelands. They are predominantly Sinhalese, similar to the Sri Lankan military.

A section of the police, the Special Task Force (STF) are actually trained as combat troops, even though they are officially designated as police commandos, allowing them to be used to repress dissent without provoking international criticism.

Both the STF and the regular police force have been responsible for widespread violations of human rights. The STF in particular was heavily involved in crushing the JVP insurrection in the south between 1988 and 1990, when over 60,000 largely innocent Sinhalese youth were killed by their own security forces.

The LTTE intensified its campaign for independence following the island wide pogrom against Tamils in July 1983. Over 50,000 Tamil civilians have been killed in the government's attempts to crush the Tamil struggle. In the 1977 elections, the Tamil people of the island voted overwhelmingly for parties supporting independence from Sri Lanka.

 

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