Thursday, September 23, 2010

Sri Lanka's former Army commander might serve jail term

Xinhua | Global Times

While Sri Lanka's prison authorities waiting to welcome their most "prestigious" prisoner -- former Army Commander Sarath Fonseka, the eyes of others are focussed on President Mahinda Rajapaksa to see whether he will give his final nod to put Fonseka behind bars or a pardon.

The three-member military court has endorsed its final verdict - - a three-year imprisonment -- against Fonseka on four charges of "disgraceful conduct" in military procurement while he was serving as the Army chief from December 2005 to July 2009.

Still denying all accusations, Fonseka in a statement said he would not accept the verdict of the court martial as he was not guilty of any corruption of any defense deal.

"If I am jailed for something that I did not do, I will work with more determination than what I displayed in destroying V. Prabhakaran (the leader of Tamil Tgier rebels). I will work to ensure that injustice is defeated and there will be no mercy for those who worked to tarnish my honor," he stated in the statement.

Fonseka invited all the troubles from the day he hinted he would challenge the incumbent president in the presidential election. The strong link between the duos, which had a common desire -- to vanquish the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) - - got disconnected with Fonseka's decision to run for presidency in November 2009.

His ill-fated challenge threw to the country's executive president has paid him a "high price". The first court martial, which found him guilty of engaging in politics while in uniform, had stripped him of his ranks and all medals he had earned during his 38-year career as a soldier.

Fonseka, who was promoted as the country's first four-star General in recognition of his contribution to end the war by the Rajapaksa government, lost the rank accordingly. Though he became just "Sarath Fonseka", he is still "General Fonseka" to majority Sri Lankans who credit the war victory for the veteran soldier.

Fonseka, who was appointed as the Chief of Defense Staff, was credited for commanding the Army to end the 30-year-old war against the LTTE, who fought for a homeland for the minority Tamils. They were defeated on May 19, 2009.

In several occasions, Fonseka said like his arrest was illegal, questioning him before a military court was illegal. He strongly objected the three-member bench of military judges claiming they held prejudices to him.

He claimed since he was a four-star General, the judges who were in the rank of Major Generals could not be in the bench. Fonseka said he had taken disciplinary action against two of them and the other was a close associate of the president's brother Defense Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa who hated Fonseka for challenging Rajapaksa.

Major General Milinda Peiris was the head of the military bench and the other two members were Lalith Daulagala and Mahinda Hathurusinghe.

Fonseka said taking him before the military court was to put him behind bars and end his political career.

The three-member Court Martial on Friday made Fonseka guilty on four charges of "disgraceful conduct" in military procurement.

According to the second court martial probe, in the first charge, he was accused for purchasing 50 power generators from an Australian company violating the tender procedure while Fonseka was in the Tender Board. Fonseka's son-in-law Danuna Tilakeratne which was the local agent of the Australian firm is missing and warrant had been issued to arrest him.

In the second charge, Fonseka was accused for purchasing high frequency direction finders and the third was purchasing binoculars while the fourth procuring fifty 12 volt batteries from the same Australian firm.

According to Lakshman Hulugalla, director general of the Media Center for National Security there are no plans to pardon Fonseka and also no formal request was made by the chief Buddhist prelates.

"A pardon is most unlikely. The court recommendations were sent to the president and the punishment will be decided after the president approves it," Hulugalla said.

Fonseka's own party the Democratic National Alliance (DNA) is to go to Appeal Courts as a matter of routine. Its spokesman Anura Kumara Dissanayake said there was no justice in the country and could not have any faith in the judiciary.

The two main opposition parties -- the United National Party ( UNP) and the People's Liberation Front or JVP, which became allies during their run-up to the presidency with their common candidate Fonseka but parted soon after the defeat at the election, have now come to a common stage to save Fonseka from jail term.

UNP leader Ranil Wickremeighe denouncing the charges against Fonseka and urging Rajapaksa to give Fonseka a pardon said if the president goes ahead with the ruling it would affect the parliamentary privileges of Fonseka.

At a ceremony in Colombo Wickremesinghe tore off a copy of the charge sheet and said while Fonseka was behind bars, the murderers were granted amnesty.

The UNP said it will go before the UN Human Rights Council against the ill-treating of Fonseka by the government.

"The courts martial against the former Army commander are unjust and he is a political victim. This is not the only incident of political victimization and the UNP will go before the Human Rights Council next month to seek redress," UNP General Secretary Tissa Attanayake said.

Meanwhile, UNP Parliamentarian Jayalath Jayawardene, who was invited for the Human Rights Committee for Parliamentarians of the Inter Parliamenatry Union in Geneva on Oct. 2, said he would discuss the ill-treatment meted out to Fonseka.

For common people he is the war hero and is still the country's best Army chief.

Sugath Ellawala, a manager of a tea exporting company, said the punishment was politically motivated and Fonseka should not be jailed.

"Some criminals including LTTE terrorists, are being treated well. They are not criminals any more as they are in the government fold but the man who fought and had a narrow escape from a suicide blast is to be imprisoned. This is very unfair," Ellawala said.

Jayamail Weeraratne, a third-year university student, wondered the crime committed by the ex-Army chief to suffer this fate.

"Whether he is in jail or not he is the country's hero. He is the one who saved us from terrorism. Justice will bring him to the proper place soon," Weeraratne said.

© Global Times

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