COLOMBO – The Sri Lankan government is planning to completely demilitarize the country by 2018, making it the first South Asian state to announce its intention to end the army’s involvement in civilian life, after decades of civil war that set the institution up for a position of dominance.

Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera told reporters in Colombo on Wednesday that the military has been asked to disengage from all commercial activities.

The military has already given up some of the businesses they were engaged in, he added. The government has also begun a process of handing back some military-occupied lands to its original owners.

Samaraweera said the government had also replaced retired military generals with civilian governors in two embattled provinces.

Heavy deployments from the Sri Lankan army have remained in former war zones in the island’s north and east since a 37-year conflict with Tamil separatists ended in May 2009.

The military is also deeply involved in private enterprise, running everything from beauty parlors to businesses selling vegetables and fish, in competition with small-scale vendors.

In other South Asian countries such as India and Pakistan, the military is also involved in certain civilian sectors, a phenomenon that some observers trace back to the countries’ shared colonial past.