2018 deadline for Sri Lankan military to quit businesses

COLOMBO • Sri Lanka intends to become completely demilitarised by 2018, the government said yesterday, a significant announcement that will end the army's involvement in civilian life after decades of ethnic war.

Heavy deployments from the Sri Lankan army have remained in former war zones in the island's north and east since a 37-year conflict with Tamil separatists ended in May 2009.

The military is also deeply involved in private enterprise in competition with small-scale vendors.

"By 2018, we hope to complete the demilitarisation process, not only in the north-east, but the rest of the country too," Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera told reporters in Colombo.

"We have also asked the military to disengage from all commercial activities they are engaged in," said Mr Samaraweera.

The United Nations Human Rights Council has repeatedly asked Sri Lanka to reduce the military's involvement in civilian life and restore normality to the war-torn regions.

At least 100,000 people died in Sri Lanka's drawn-out separatist campaign, led by Tamil Tiger rebels who fought for an independent state within the majority Sinhalese island. After the war ended, former president Mahinda Rajapakse deployed the army to operate luxury hotels, restaurants and farms, as well as engage in retail.

The move forced many small- scale vendors out of business, while the Sri Lankan air force ran a beauty parlour offering cheaper services that undercut private barbers.

Mr Samaraweera said the military had already given up some of the businesses they were engaged in, adding that there would be a complete disengagement by 2018.

He said the government has replaced former military top brass with civilian governors in two embattled provinces.

The government has also begun a process of handing back some military-occupied land to its original owners. It is also making efforts to trace thousands of people who went missing during and after the war and pay reparations to victims of the conflict.

Sri Lanka's government has been praised for agreeing to investigate allegations that up to 40,000 ethnic Tamils were killed by troops in the final months of fighting in 2009. But its slow progress in probing the deaths has also drawn criticism.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 07, 2016, with the headline '2018 deadline for Sri Lankan military to quit businesses'. Print Edition | Subscribe