Sri Lanka Places Soldiers at Gas Stations, Seeks Debt Restructuring

Sri Lanka on Tuesday (22/3), stationed troops at hundreds of state-owned gas stations (SPBU) to help distribute fuel after sudden increases in basic commodity prices and resulting shortages forced tens of thousands of people to queue for hours.

The country is struggling with a foreign exchange crisis that is forcing currency devaluations and struggling to pay for essential imports such as food, medicine and fuel, prompting it to seek help from the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

The decision to deploy troops near gas stations and kerosene supply points came after three elderly people died while waiting in long lines, officials said.

Government spokesman Ramesh Pathirana said the troop deployment was a response to complaints of inefficient stockpiling and distribution. “The military is deployed to help people, not to limit their human rights,” he added.

Sri Lankan soldiers stand guard at a petrol station owned by Ceylon Petroleum in Colombo, Sri Lanka, on March 22, 2022. They were brought in to help distribute oil in the midst of the country's fuel crisis.  (Photo: Reuters/Dinuka Liyanawatte)

Sri Lankan soldiers stand guard at a petrol station owned by Ceylon Petroleum in Colombo, Sri Lanka, on March 22, 2022. They were brought in to help distribute oil in the midst of the country’s fuel crisis. (Photo: Reuters/Dinuka Liyanawatte)

Military spokeswoman Nilantha Premaratne told the news agency Reutersat least two army personnel will be stationed at each gas station to help regulate fuel distribution, but soldiers will not be involved in crowd control.

Tensions over supply shortages have sparked sporadic violence among those scrambling to buy fuel and other essentials.

The rapid spending of the dollar has left Sri Lanka struggling to pay for essential imports as the currency’s reserves have fallen by 70 percent in the past two years to $2.31 billion. But Sri Lanka will have to pay off about $4 billion in debt this year, including $1 billion in international sovereign bonds maturing in July.

Ahead of IMF talks in Washington due to take place in April, the government said it would hire a global law firm to provide technical assistance on debt restructuring to tackle the crisis. [ka/lt]