Sri Lanka to free military deserters: official

July 24, 2009 (AFP) – Sri Lanka is to free some 1,800 jailed military deserters as part of a presidential amnesty, a justice ministry spokesman said on Friday. In 2003, the government moved to legally discharge 51,000 deserters from the security forces.

Tens of thousands were killed in Sri Lanka’s decades-old Tamil separatist conflict. The pardon will apply to deserters serving up to a year in jail after being convicted by military courts, the official said, adding that 585 convicted deserters had been freed last month to mark a Buddhist festival.

“The latest amnesty is a special arrangement considering that there is no more fighting (between troops and Tamil Tigers),” he said.

Most of the desertions took place several years ago, a military official said, adding there had been no exodus in recent years despite heavy fighting with separatist Tamil Tiger guerrillas who were eventually defeated in May.