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Sri Lanka cancels $200 mln China, Pakistan weapons buy

[Reuters, Wednesday, 15 July 2009 13:13 No Comment]

Sri Lanka has cancelled a $200 million purchase of ammunition from Pakistan and China after the end of its war with the Tamil Tigers, the island nation’s new top military commander said on Wednesday.

General Sarath Fonseka, who as army commander was one of the chief architects of the campaign to destroy the separatist Tigers and end a 25-year war, on Sunday was named to the newly created post of chief of defence staff. "We stopped the orders of $200 million worth of ammunition from China and Pakistan with the war’s end," Fonseka said at his swearing-in. He is now in overall command of the military.

The order would have been enough ammunition to fire guns and heavy weapons at the rate seen during the climax of the war, which ended on May 18, Fonseka said. About 800 members of a breakaway Tiger group have also joined the armed forces, he said.

Sri Lanka wants a $1.9 billion International Monetary Fund loan to bolster foreign exchange reserves and solve a balance-of-payments problem, and diplomats are closely watching to see if the military remains a top government priority.

Western diplomats privately have frowned on plans to add 50,000 people to the security services, saying that Sri Lanka should be spending its money on post-war rebuilding.

Overall defence spending this year was estimated at up to 200 billion rupees ($1.74 billion), accounting for 17 percent of the country’s total estimated expenditure.

The forecast came before the end of a war that has always been a drag on Sri Lanka’s $40 billion economy.

Sri Lanka’s military and police, with a combined strength of 350,000, won one of the Asia’s longest modern wars and declared victory over the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam on May 18.

Fonseka’s promotion, and that of navy chief Admiral Wasantha Karannagoda to the new post of the president’s national security adviser, means the military will still have an influential role in President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s administration.

Fonseka is close to Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa, the president’s brother who fought the LTTE on Fonseka’s flank in the 1980s. He now is the civilian head of the defence ministry.

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