Saturday, February 13, 2010

'General Fonseka knew about Lasantha's murder beforehand' - SL Defence Secretary

Interviewed by Ravi Velloor - Soon after Mahinda Rajapaksa took charge as president of Sri Lanka in late 2005, he appointed younger brother Gotabaya, a former infantry officer, to the critical post of Defence Secretary.

At Cabinet meetings, Mr Gotabaya would listen as the debates swirled on how to tackle the Tamil Tiger separatist insurgency that had roiled his nation for a quarter century. Many thought a political settlement was the only way out.

"Gota", as he is known, was convinced otherwise. He soon set about beefing up the military, organising the weapons and other supplies needed to take on the world's deadliest guerilla force. Arms came from the Ukraine, China and Pakistan. Valuable intelligence inputs came from India, whose former prime minister, Rajiv Gandhi, had been assassinated by a woman Tiger.

Twelve days before he was due to retire as a major general in 2005, President Rajapaksa picked Sarath Fonseka as the new army chief. He couldn’t have found a more determined man. Together, the three orchestrated what the Sri Lankans call the world's first decisive victory against "terrorism".

But now the Rajapaksas have fallen out with Fonseka.

In October, sitting in his defence headquarters office, my meeting with Mr Gotabaya was cancelled at the last minute. His military aide said the secretary had been summoned by the president, then developed a stomach ache and had gone home to rest.

When I got back to my hotel Colombo was all agog with rumours that Fonseka, still the chief of defence services, was about to mount a coup and topple the president.

The Rajapaksas now have the upper hand. Gotabaya's hard-hitting tone throughout the hour-long telephone interview he gave me on Wednesday afternoon reveals the depth of the anger the Rajapaksas have towards Fonseka.


On the circumstances that prompted Fonseka's arrest:

The episode has nothing to do with our political differences. The biggest damage he has done is by coming into politics in the manner he did. After 35 years in the military he should have thought of the institution as a whole.

Our forces never used to be involved in politics but this time they were fully involved and this divided the military. He used to telephone officers directly. Some officers told me they switched off their cell phones because of this. His campaign staff comprised mostly military officers and their main task was trying to reach the security commanders.

He divided the army. Because of this, the government had to bring some of the officers on television to defend its position. He started his political campaign when he was occupying the army commanders house!

On Fonseka's charge that his military security was deliberately reduced to expose him to danger:

He had requested for a certain number of security personnel. This was granted, but he kept more than that. The army couldn't do anything. If it tried to take away the extra security and vehicles, he would immediately have claimed the government was harassing the commander.

He created the situation and then he began attacking the president and myself in a third grade manner, more than any other politician ever would. It was so dirty.

On the main reason for Fonseka's arrest:

The main reason is whatever he had done in the military. He will be charged under the army act. Under the army act, any officer can be charged under military act within six months of leaving the military. There are other things we will do under civil code.

Such as what?

It was clear that while he was holding the Chief of Defence Staff assignment he was working with politicians and held discussions with them and tried to win them over. That was completely wrong because he was sitting in Security Council meetings. It amounts to treason. He knew everything that was going on.

The IDP (internally displaced persons) situation for instance. He is the only person who disagreed that the people should be resettled promptly. He completely opposed it. In fact, he said there should be no resettlement for three years. (Presidential adviser) Basil (Rajapaksa) wanted it. The security force commaders wanted it. But Fonseka said, no , he can't agree.

Once in the Eastern Province (a war-ravaged province where Tamils are a majority) he even told the security commander to bring back to camps those who had been resettled. Everyone in the army knows that. But once he left the army, he said just the reverse.

On the other civil offences:

Well, he alleged that I gave orders for shooting at people holding white flags (of surrender). It is utter lies. You can understand the difficulty he put the government in.

On Tuesday, he told the BBC that he will give evidence in any court. That type of thing. He simply cannot do that. For one thing it is a lie. The other thing is to give evidence... after all he was one of the people involved.

Also, certain things he said in the political campaign we cannot ignore. It wasn't in the heat of campaigning. He was serious. Such as how to get rid of certain people.

On Fonseka knowing about the murder of the journalist Lasantha Wickrematunge beforehand:

Yes, of course. We know there was no other person. You have to see the circumstances. Some of the media people harmed had never criticised any other person except him, or people close to him. Nothing happened to those who had been criticising me or the president.

We have a clue whom he has used. We are very convinced. In fact, I know for sure. He was definitely responsible for 5 or 6 cases (of disappearances) where media people were involved. Now I am going after the people who did the executions. The truth will come out very soon, then the people will know.

On government fears that he was heading towards leading a coup:

He was planning on a military rule. It was very clear in the latter stages, in the way he had spoken and addressed the people. He said he wouldn't allow the politicians to rob the military of the victory they had achieved and offer a political solution.

He was completely trying to isolate the politics and take the country on a different path. In his very last stages as army commander he began bringing his people into Colombo and his regiment, positioning his senior regiment people all over.

All these things were looking like a military coup. He also took a keen interest in changing the previous navy commander (who was not well inclined towards him).

All that hastened our decision to move him to a higher apppontment. I had to take that decision to take him out from the commander's position and make him CDS (Chief of Defence Staff). The CDS is not a ceremonial post, but he created that impression.

The fighting phase (against the Tamil Tigers) was over and in the second phase what was required was more intelligence and planning. It needed careful planning, rebooting. You can't do it the same way you conducted a military operation. Hence, the CDS appointment.

Outsiders don't know all this and call it a demotion. In fact, the JVP (Janatha Vimukti Peramuna) who are his present supporters criticised the government at the time for creating such a position with huge powers. They said we are trying to create a dictator. They said too much power vested in a single person. If Fonseka's aim was to serve that would have been a better position.

On the impact on the army:

They understand. They know he has made mistakes. His behaviour during the campaign antagonised the military. And in any case he wasn't a very popular army commander. We ourselves gave him more credit than he deserved. There were better officers in the army.

He was appointed 12 days before retirement. If President Rajapaksa had not been elected in 2005 Fonseka would have retired as a major general. What he achieved we could have done with any other commander. We had better officers who had made more sacrifices.

We had four presidents previously. None of them were convinced it (the Tamil Tiger separatist insurgency) could be tackled militarily. Only Rajapaksa (the President) was convinced it had to be tackled as a military problem.

All the others were half hearted. It was only purely numbers. I gave numbers and increased the army's strength by three times to close to 300,000. We put more people on the ground.

On Fonseka's wife saying she has no clue to his whereabouts:

He is being kept in a naval base. He is not in a cell or anything. We have given him an apartment that was once used by the navy commander when he was a chief of staff. It is pretty luxurious.

If Fonseka had won he wouldn't have given all these facilities even to President Rajapaksa. But he lies, his wife lies. And his supporters lie.

On letting him campaign in the parliamentary polls:

Now he can't. The court martial will begin immediately after the assembling of the summary of evidence is done. I don't know how long it will take because that depends on lawyers. But we want to finish it soon, in less than six months maybe. The severity of the charges is very high. He can be put in jail for as long as five years.

On Fonseka alleging serious human rights violations by the Sri Lankan military:
I am not bothered. He can tell any lie but he can't prove anything. At one time he says defence secretary wasn't in office at a particular time, at another time he says I gave illegal orders (of shooting at people holding white flags of surrender) during that time. We can prove these allegations aren't true.

We are 100 per cent convinced that western countries with vested interests were backing him. Even the US, and countries like Norway, spent lots of money on his campaign.

I have proof of the Norwegian government paying journalists to write against the government. They have vested interests and used to support the Tamil Tigers in various ways. They also supported Fonseka to try oust the president.

On Gotabaya's personal plans:

There are still a lot of things that need to be done. As secretary for defence I have to bring stability. The Tamil Tigers has a big network outside. We have broken much of that but we have to continue.

The military can do a lot for reconciliation. People don't understand how good our soldiers are. A lot of people tell me that in the Eastern Province they want army around, not police. The army can also play a major role in development because we have trained, disciplined people.

On whether he is standing for the parliamentary polls like his nephew, the president's son:

I won't be contesting for parliament.

© The Straits Times

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]
Bookmark and Share

No comments:

Post a Comment

© 2009 - 2014 Journalists for Democracy in Sri Lanka

  © Blogger template 'Fly Away' by 2008

Back to TOP