Saturday, November 14, 2009

Coup fears led to crisis: Sri Lanka's top general

Sri Lanka's government sidelined top general Sarath Fonseka because of fears he would launch a coup, he wrote in a bitter resignation letter ahead of an expected election battle with the president.

The letter, seen by AFP on Friday, criticises the government for a host of failings, including its inability to "win the peace" after the end of a 37-year separatist war here in May.

It gives a rare insight into events following the conflict, which claimed an estimated 80,000-100,000 lives, and shows the total breakdown in trust between Fonseka and his civilian bosses.

Considered a war hero at home for his role in the army's victory, Fonseka said the government had asked neighbouring India on October 15 to prepare its troops to be deployed in the event of a military coup here.

"This action did tarnish the image and reputation gained by the Sri Lanka army as a competent and professional organisation which was capable of defeating a terrorist group," he said in his letter, written in English.

Fonseka quit on Thursday as chief of defence staff -- a ceremonial position he was given after the military campaign and is now widely tipped to challenge President Mahinda Rajapakse in polls slated for April 2010 at the latest.

Sri Lanka's army, led by Fonseka, wiped out the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) rebel group in May, ending the decades-long conflict but prompting allegations of gross human rights violations.

The United Nations reported that more than 7,000 civilians may have perished in fighting this year, though this is denied by the Sri Lankan government.

Fonseka, the country's only four-star general, sidestepped questions on his retirement plans, but associates and analysts expect him to stand against Rajapakse as an opposition candidate.

"He is certainly entering politics. It is an irreversible process for him now," Sumanasiri Liyanage, a political science professor at the University of Peradeniya, told AFP.

"In the short term it is good because he is helping to mobilise the main opposition. A stronger opposition is good for democracy," Liyanage said.

Fonseka, from the majority Sinhalese ethnic group and known as a nationalist, criticised Rajapakse for failing to make peace with the Tamil minority on whose behalf the LTTE rebels launched their separatist fight.

"Your excellency's government has yet to win the peace in spite of the fact that the army under my leadership won the war," he said.

"There is no clear policy to win the hearts and minds of the Tamil people, which will surely ruin the victory attained, paving the way for yet another uprising in the future."

He said he opposed holding tens of thousands of Tamil civilians who survived the final stages of the fighting in internment camps and wanted them re-settled at the earliest opportunity -- a call repeated by the international community.

He also accused the Rajapakse administration of corruption and waste and said media freedom and personal liberties had been curtailed

"The many sacrifices the army made to end the war would not have been in vain, if we can usher in a new era of peace and prosperity to our motherland."

He also made it clear in his resignation letter that the government feared his power after the end of the war, which was the reason for his new ceremonial position.

"The government's unwillingness to grant me with command responsibilities which leads to believe in a strong mistrust in me, which is most depressing after all what was performed to achieve (the) war victory," he said.

He said he had wanted to remain as army chief until the organisation's 60th anniversary in October, but was promoted to the more senior but less powerful post of chief of defence staff in July.

"Various agencies misleading your excellency by stating a possible coup immediately after the victory over the LTTE obviously led to a change of command in spite of my request to be in command until the army celebrated its 60th anniversary.

"This fear psychosis of a coup is well known among the defence circles," he wrote to the president.

Sri Lanka has no history of a military coup except an abortive attempt in the early 1960s.

There was no immediate comment from the government.


Related Links:
Sri Lanka army head told to go now - BBC News

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