More men on their way
by Shamindra Ferdinando

Last monthís controversy over the repatriation of a group of Sri Lankan soldiers deployed in Haiti under UN Command for buying sexual services from sex workers including some who might be underage wouldnít affect the future deployment of units in the Caribbean Island.

Military Spokesman Brigadier Udaya Nanayakkara said that a 750-strong contingent, including 50 officers, would leave for Haiti over the coming weekend.

This would be the seventh contingent to be deployed there since Sri Lanka first committed troops for the overseas mission. The latest contingent would comprise officers and men from the Sinha Regiment which had been on a previous mission to Haiti. It would be commanded by Colonel G.J.L. Waduge, the spokesman said.

Nanayakkara asserted that last monthís repatriation of 110 personnel pending the finalisation of investigations undertaken by the UN and the Government of Sri Lanka would not affect the planned deployment. The repatriated contingent included 99 men from the army, ten air forcemen and one from the navy.

Fielding questions, he said a board constituted on the orders of Army Chief Lt. General Sarath Fonseka was in the process of investigating the conduct of the repatriated personnel. "We havenít finalised our inquiries. We are also waiting to receive a copy of the UN investigation report," he said. On Sri Lankaís request, the UN has sent some members of the mission deployed in Haiti to assist the local investigation here.

Members of the repatriated contingent vehemently denied the allegations. An officer who had been on the Haiti mission told The Island that free condoms were issued to soldiers deployed there and the UN was well aware of the practice. Why on earth were condoms issued if they (UN) expected the men to remain celibate. He also said that UN authorities didnít conduct a proper investigation. "Among the repatriated were some personnel who hadnít gone out of their bases," he said.

Deployment in Haiti is highly coveted by both officers and men of the regular army as benefits are substantial. Each soldier irrespective of his rank is paid USD 1028 (approximately Rs 128,000) a month. The Sri Lankan contingent is 950 strong with 750 infantry, 100 from support services and 50 each from the air force and navy.



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