Sri Lanka reduces the army by half after the financial crisis

The defense ministry of bankrupt Sri Lanka said Friday that the government will work to fix its shameful finances after an unprecedented economic crisis.

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

President Ranil Wickremesinghe raised taxes and imposed harsh spending cuts to facilitate passage of the expected bailout from the International Monetary Fund in the wake of a government debt default.

The Sri Lankan Armed Forces are next in line for the chopping block, with the Ministry of Defense announcing that it will withdraw 65,000 soldiers from its 200,000-strong army during the year.

The cuts account for the lion’s share of plans to reduce the number of ground forces in Sri Lanka to 100,000 by the end of the decade.

“The overall objective of the strategic plan is to put forward a technically and tactically sound and well-balanced defense force,” a ministry statement said.

Also read: Bankrupt Sri Lanka cuts fuel prices

Sri Lanka’s armed forces are still bulging more than a decade after the country’s agonizing ethnic civil war ended.

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

Defense accounted for nearly 10 percent of public spending last year, and according to expert analysts, salaries for members of the security forces make up half of the government’s salary bill.

Sri Lanka warned this week that it barely has enough revenue to pay public servants’ salaries and pensions despite huge tax hikes at the start of the year.

The economy shrank by about 8.7 percent last year as the public suffered prolonged power outages, long lines for petrol, empty supermarket shelves and runaway inflation.

Also read: Bankrupt Sri Lanka seeks Russian oil discount

The crisis came to a head in July when protesters angry about the crisis stormed the official residence of then-President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, who briefly fled the country and tendered his resignation abroad.

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