What will be imported are 2,568 semi-automatic “SAR-40” rifles from China, to be issued to Civil Security Department (CSD) personnel and Department of Wildlife Conservation (DWC) officers, for self defence against poachers and others who trespass on Wildlife sanctuaries, the Minister said this week. There is no information to be found on SAR-40 in reputed sources online.
The firearms are aimed at easing the human-elephant conflict but are not intended for use on the pachyderms, the minister insisted. Some 3,000 CSD personnel would be deployed to reinforce the electrical fencing project. Some, along with DWC officers, would be equipped with the new firearms, he said.
The large number of firearms to be released has raised concerns in many quarters. “Two-thousand-five-hundred rifles would suffice to equip several battalions, almost a brigade,” said a retired senior army officer, speaking to the Sunday Times on condition of anonymity.
Firearms-related violence and crime has been a major security concern in the recent past. Nevertheless, the minister vowed that all legal requirements and procedures regarding the use and secure storage of firearms would be followed, when the arms were issued for field use.
A Cabinet paper dated August 7, 2018, had named the firearm as an “AK-47”, the infamous Kalashnikov-designed weapon from Russia. But Minister Fonseka said it would be imported from China and would be a semi-automatic rifle incapable of fully automatic-fire. It uses the same ammunition as the T-56 assault rifle, he added, calling it “SAR-40”, rather than “AK-47”, as mentioned in the Cabinet paper.
The Cabinet paper lists the unit price of the rifle at Rs 16,000 (for 2018) and 17,000 (for 2019). The total cost is estimated at Rs 42 million.
The “AK 47” pattern of rifles have many variations and have been widely exported and licensed to be built in many countries including China, Iran, Pakistan, India and most of the former Soviet Republics. A Chinese-built variant of the AK-47, the T-56 assault rifle, was widely used by the Sri Lanka military, law enforcement officers and the LTTE during the war.
Minister Fonseka said all officers would undergo training in the proper use of the SAR-40. He acknowledged that new ‘Rules of Engagement” needed to be drafted and enforced by the Ministry, as to how and when these firearms could or could not be used by CSD and Wildlife officers.
The CSD would be responsible for the firearms issued to it and the DWC for the ones held by its staff. “The CSD stands ready to assist the project and noted that CSD personnel are already involved in building and maintaining the existing ‘elephant fence’,” said CSD Director General Maj.Gen. Nirmal Coswatte.