The Army will not close down camps in the North and East, but will shrink its deployment in a manner that will not jeopardise national security, Army Commander Lt. Gen. Mahesh Senanayake said.
“We are ready to release another 522 acres in the North and East but we have to adjust ourselves prior to releasing these lands to the owners. We have our own infrastructure requirements and for us to move, I have to now construct billets. Hence, I have requested money for this from the government and around Rs 800 million is required of which we have already been granted Rs.100 million so far. However, even if the balance is given to me today, I cannot have these camps move overnight and I require at least around five months to construct the basic facilities to shift my troops.
Therefore, when the money is given within six months I will ensure that the lands we are occupying will be released and we will move,” the Army Commander said.
By July 31, 2018 the Sri Lanka Army had released 65,133 acres in the North and East and currently the Army occupies around 19,300 acres.
As at July 31, 2018 the Army was occupying 16,115 acres in the Northern Province in the Jaffna, Killinochchi, Mullaithivu, Mannar and Vavuniya districts.
In the Eastern province the army is occupying 3,185 acres in the Trincomalee, Batticaloa and Ampara districts.
Of these lands occupied by the Army only 2,621 acres are private lands belonging to the people and the balance 16,680 acres are all government land being occupied by the Army.
Speaking to the Daily News Army Commander Lt.Gen Senanayake said priority will be given to the releasing of private lands that belong to the civilians.
By 2009 at the end of the war the military was occupying around 84,434 acres of land which has been released to the rightful owners in stages.
However, he said that this in no way will hinder national security. “We will have our presence there but we are basically shrinking our troops deployment and releasing more lands to the private owners,” he said.
Responding to allegations that the majority of troops are deployed in the North, Lt. Gen. Senanayake said, “By looking at the figures and the number of camps some may feel that way. But, when you take the whole island for that matter, Central, South and West and other provinces, there are much less troops being deployed. But why we are there in the North is because there was a problem there. It is a mere nine years since the war ended and I wish and pray that the Sri Lanka Police will take over control in these areas in time to come. They can have their paramilitary forces and continue while we can be confined to barracks.”
However, he noted that today’s issue is policing. “I am not trying to lay any blame on the police but they have their limitations and restrictions in terms of manpower and resources, whereas the army has more manpower and resources than any other deployment. Hence, we are not currently reducing deployment and closing down camps but the camps will be shrunk. Even though we shrink the numbers to release more lands, we can still maintain the security at the same level,” the Army Commander assured.