COLOMBO: Bankrupt Sri Lanka will drastically slash its military, the defence ministry said on Friday, as the government works to overhaul its shambolic finances after an unprecedented economic crisis.

The island nation is still reeling from months of food and fuel shortages that made daily life a misery for its 22 million people last year.

President Ranil Wickremesinghe has hiked taxes and imposed harsh spending cuts to smooth the passage of an expected International Monetary Fund bailout following a government debt default.

Sri Lanka’s armed forces are next on the chopping block, with the defence ministry announcing it would retire 65,000 soldiers from its 200,000-strong army over the year. The cuts make up the lion’s share of plans to downsize Sri Lanka’s land forces to 100,000 by the end of the decade.

“The overall aim of the strategic blueprint is to broach a technically and tactically sound and well-balanced defence force,” a ministry statement said. Sri Lanka’s armed forces remain bloated more than a decade after the end of the country’s traumatic ethnic civil war.

Nearly 400,000 people served in the military at its peak strength in 2009, the year government forces crushed the Tamil Tigers separatist movement during a no-holds-barred offensive that saw thousands of civilian casualties.

Defence accounted for nearly 10 percent of public spending last year, and according to expert analysts, pay for security force personnel makes up half the government’s salary bill.

Sri Lanka warned this week it had barely enough revenue to pay public employees and pensions despite huge tax hikes at the start of the year.

The economy shrank an estimated 8.7 percent last year as the public endured lengthy blackouts, long queues for petrol, empty supermarket shelves and runaway inflation.

Published in Dawn, January 14th, 2023

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