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Sri Lanka turns attention to national security, veterans programs

Mandeep Singh

More than a decade since the end of Sri Lanka’s civil war, the country is refocusing its peacetime defense budgeting to invest in national security and programs to help veterans.

Sri Lanka’s Parliament approved a 2021 defense budget with expanded funds for force modernization and maritime security and an emphasis on counternarcotics, counterterrorism, defense against illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing, and humanitarian assistance and disaster relief (HADR).

Sri Lanka’s Ministry of Defense issued a statement to lawmakers describing how the U.S. $1.7 billion defense budget, up 8% from the previous year, would be spent.

“We must combat the drug menace and must eliminate our country from becoming a hub for international illicit drug trade,” the statement said. “The government expects to ensure that the investments will facilitate to control smuggling of goods, providing the required protection for the fishery resources and fishery communities and establishing a safe environment for carrying out tasks in the Indian Ocean.”

Sri Lanka’s Navy will be the prime beneficiary of a U.S. $104 million allocation for force enhancement, the ministry added. New equipment and infrastructure for the Army and Air Force to expand their HADR capabilities are also forthcoming.

India has extended a U.S. $50 million line of credit to Sri Lanka to invest in defense equipment made in India, reported India’s Economic Times newspaper. That news followed the September 2020 summit between Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Sri Lankan Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa.

The Sri Lankan spending plan allocates U.S. $13 million for strengthening public security, which includes police, the ministry statement added. New specialized police vehicles and other resources will be deployed to fight drug trafficking and enhance traffic law enforcement. New training programs for robbery investigations and crime prevention are also planned.

Budget planners also funded the Special Task Force, a Sri Lanka Police unit specializing in counterterrorism and counterinsurgency operations.

Maintaining a robust counterterrorism capability is central to the mission of Sri Lanka’s military, retired Maj. Gen. Kamal Gunaratne, Sri Lanka’s defense secretary, said during a speech at the Defense Services Command and Staff College in Colombo.

The counterterrorism focus comes after 277 people were killed in a series of coordinated suicide terrorist bombings in Colombo and two other Sri Lankan cities on April 21, 2019.

The country is also taking steps to better care for its veterans. Nearly U.S. $4 million was added to the defense budget for the Rana Viru Seva Authority, which supports the psychological and social stability of disabled veterans and their families. (Pictured: A Sri Lankan Soldier takes part in a ceremony to mark Poppy Day, which pays tribute to fallen Soldiers and veterans.)

Assistance includes medical aid, support for development enterprises, educational and vocational development programs, and housing loans.

Mandeep Singh is a FORUM contributor reporting from New Delhi, India.



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