Soldiers march during Sri Lanka's 69th Independence day celebrations in Colombo, Sri Lanka February 4, 2017. Photo: Reuters/Dinuka Liyanawatte

Sri Lanka arrested nearly 550 soldiers in a single day as it reins in the mass desertion that’s plagued the armed forces since the end of the civil war, an official said Monday.

The military has been pursuing nearly 43,000 deserters who refused to voluntarily turn themselves in under a government amnesty designed to clean up the ranks.

Arrests have begun in earnest since the grace period expired in December, ending any hope soldiers had of avoiding a court martial.

The mass apprehension of 546 soldiers during a sweep on Thursday was “the largest ever,” brigadier Roshan Seneviratne told AFP.

“Those who surrendered during the one-month amnesty period could either rejoin the service or be legally discharged,” he added.

More than 9,000 officers and soldiers took advantage of the amnesty, turning themselves in to avoid punishment.

Sri Lanka’s army, navy and airforce have a combined strength of just over 275,000 personnel, but desertion has been a serious problem throughout its history.