July 11,2018 Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena had told the Cabinet he "was ready to sign the death warrants" of repeat drug offenders COLOMBO (AFP) - Sri Lanka announced on Wednesday (July 11) it would start hanging drug dealers, ending a near-half century moratorium on capital punishment as officials promised to "replicate the success" of the Philippines drug war. President Maithripala Sirisena had told the Cabinet he "was ready to sign the death warrants" of repeat drug offenders, government spokesman Rajitha Senaratne said on Wednesday. "From now on, we will hang drug offenders without commuting their death sentences," he said. Sri Lanka has commuted death sentences for serious crimes to life in prison since 1976, when the last execution took place. Mr Senaratne said there were 19 drug offenders whose death sentences had been commuted to life. It was not clear if they would be hanged under the government's policy shift. But authorities say a tougher approach is needed to combat what they say is an increase in drug-related crime. Mr Senaratne cited a case this week where a convicted drug dealer, whose death sentence was commuted to life, had arranged the import of 100 kilograms of heroin from behind bars. The government has drawn inspiration from the Philippines, where a no-holds barred war on drugs has been a centrepiece of President Rodrigo Duterte's administration. "We were told that the Philippines has been successful in deploying the army and dealing with this problem. We will try to replicate their success," Mr Senaratne said of the decision to deploy the military to tackle drugs. The government has not spelt out how it will deploy troops, but in the past they have been used to reinforce local police in riot control. Mr Duterte ran on a law-and-order platform that included promises to kill thousands of people involved in the drug trade, including officials. Authorities have acknowledged killing more than 4,200 drug suspects who resisted arrest. But rights groups say the actual number of dead is at least triple that and could amount to crimes against humanity.