Saturday, November 14, 2009

Lasantha murder: Police unable to obtain information

By Ananda Weerasuriya - The Mirihana police informed the Mount Lavinia court that they have been unable to obtain any valuable information from the suspect in custody in connection with the killing of Sunday Leader Editor Lasantha Wickramathunga.

The police submitted a supplementary report on the investigation into the killing before the Mount Lavinia Chief Magistrate Harsha Setunga on Thursday.

The suspect B. Sugath Perera has been remanded on suspicion in connection with the killing on January 8, 2009. Mr. Wickramathunga was attacked by several persons on motorbikes near the Aththidiya Malagalage Junior School and he succumbed to injuries on admission to Kalubowila hospital.

B. Sugath Perera had been remanded on suspicion of theft of the telephone of the victim Wickremetunga.

When the case was called for the 24th time, the Mirihana police special investigations unit informed court that continued interrogation of the suspect had failed to produce any useful information on the killing and investigations should proceed.

The Magistrate ordered police to finalise investigations and produce a report to court on November 26 and the suspect was further remanded till that date.

© Daily Mirror

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Saturday, November 14, 2009

UN 'perplexed' by Lanka reluctance

A top UN envoy says he is "perplexed" by Sri Lankan government's reluctant to allow him for a fact finding mission despite unofficially agreeing for the visit months ago.

Frank La Rue, the UN Human Rights Council's special rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression told the BBC that he has been making the request unofficially since March this year and sent an official letter seeking permission to visit Sri Lanka in August or September.

"I have no official response yet but unofficially the Sri Lankan mission in Geneva told me that yes, I would be welcome but that the government would have to find the appropriate time for that to happen," he told BBC Sinhala service.

"And yes, I find it a bit perplexing for the government to take this long to respond."

Reconciliation after conflict

Speaking with the BBC from Guatemala Mr. La Rue said he understands that Sri Lanka has just gone through a serious armed conflict between the government forces and the Tamil Tigers.

The special rappoteur says the freedom of opinion and freedom of expression are key components of a process of reconciliation after decades of civil war.

"I think this should be definitely one of the crucial issues for that reconciliation. It is precisely at that moment that is the best effect for my visit," Frank La Rue said.

The government, as well as the LTTE, are accused of curtailing press freedom during the decades of conflict. The government earlier admitted that at least nine journalists had been killed since January 2006.

Sri Lanka media minister told the BBC that he was not aware of such a request from the special rapporteur.

"There are no special issues regarding the freedom of expression in Sri Lanka," media minister Lakshman Yapa Abeywardena told BBC Sinhala service.

If certain groups and individuals need to investigate "internal affairs" in a country, the minister said, the country has the right to allow or refuse such a request.

© BBC Sinhala

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Saturday, November 14, 2009

Why General Fonseka and Rajapaksa broke up?

By Ameen Izzadeen- Sri Lankans now know why their highly-respected war hero wants to quit his top military post and serve the people in some other capacity, possibly as their next President. According to a leaked version of what is said to be General Sarath Fonseka's retirement letter to President Mahinda Rajapaksa, it all boils down to the government's fears of a military coup and its mistrust of Sri Lanka's first and only serving four-star general.

The tone of the letter indicates that the general was highly perturbed when the government last month alerted India on a possible coup in Sri Lanka and sought its help to thwart it if it happened.

The tone of the letter indicates that the general was highly perturbed when the government last month alerted India on a possible coup in Sri Lanka and sought its help to thwart it if it happened.

The letter fired a 16-canon salvo at the President -- a kind of you did this to me, you humiliated me, you mistrusted me and you gave me a post that had no command responsibility.

The letter pointed to the recent replacement of soldiers loyal to General Fonseka with soldiers from a regiment which was close to President's brother and Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa for security duty at army headquarters.

It also had a political tone aimed at wooing the Tamils, many of whom probably love to hate him.

The general told Rajapaksa, his commander-in-chief, that he won for him the war but the President failed to capitalise on it and win the peace.

'Your Excellency's government has yet to win the peace in spite of the fact that the army under my leadership won the war. There is no clear policy to win the hearts and minds of the Tamil people, which will surely ruin the victory, attained (sic) paving the way for yet another uprising in the future,' the leaked letter said.

The general's disgust and the government's fears of a possible coup date from the beginning of the final phase of the separatist war. As the Sri Lankan armed forces scored victory after victory, General Fonseka, who in 2006 survived an LTTE assassination bid, emerged as a super hero and became more and more powerful. So much so, the President seldom said no to his requests.

Some months before the war ended, Rajapaksa honoured a senior editor with a top diplomatic posting in Pakistan. The editor and his family took wing to Islamabad. But no sooner he assumed duties than the editor received a letter from Sri Lanka' foreign ministry, asking him to immediately return to Colombo. No reasons were given why he was being called back. The editor later learnt that it was General Fonseka who told the President to do so because the editor had once blamed elements in the army for the abduction of a defence columnist who worked for him.

The power General Fonseka wielded during the war was such that many asked whether the civilian leadership was in awe of him. Analysts who were close to Rajapaksa would opine that the general was more powerful than the President.

A Machiavellian to the letter, Rajapaksa let the general have his say, but he always had an eye on his movements and waited for the opportune moment that he foresaw as coming after the war victory, to clip his wings.

Less than two months after General Fonseka's troops successfully ended a 30-year war with Tamil militants, the President 'honoured' him with a gazetted position of Chief of Defence Staff.

It took a few days for the general to realise that he had been misled and kicked upstairs with a position without power to command the armed forces. Moreover, in terms of the CDS Act, the general could act or advise only with the consent of the defence secretary, the President's brother, who was junior to General Fonseka in the army.

In his letter to the President, General Fonseka said he was humiliated by the promotion. This was how the General describes his humiliation in the leaked letter.

'Further, prior to my appointment I was mislead (sic) on the authority vested with the CDS. I was made to understand that the appointment carried more command responsibilities and authority than earlier, but subsequent to my appointment a letter by the Strategic Affairs Adviser to the defence secretary indicated that my appointment was purely to coordinate the services and not that of overall command.

'Such actions clearly defines Your Excellency's and 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 war victory.

'During a subsequent Service Commanders Meeting, the Defence Secretary was bold enough to state an unethical and uncalled (for) statement by mentioning that 'if operational control of all three services is granted to the CDS it would be very dangerous', which indeed was a loss of face to me in the presences of subordinate services commanders.'

Many analysts also believe the promotion of the general as the CDS was linked more with the fears the Rajapaksa brothers had about a military coup than with any intention to promote the general.

Two weeks before General Fonseka was given the post, the state-run Daily News carried on its front page the story on the military coup in Honduras on June 28. That a distant country with which Sri Lanka had hardly any diplomatic or trade relations made news on the front page of a state-run newspaper was no accident. Neither was it a sub editor's desperate attempt to fill space on a news-starved day.

The story was included by the government to send a signal to the highly-popular general who still commanded the respect of the rank and file of the army that the government was prepared to face any eventuality.

Not used to such indirect salvoes, the general felt that he was being used and discarded by the government. As days passed, the rift deepened. The gap between the President and the general continued to widen with government ministers at pubic meetings saying that it was because of President Rajapaksa's leadership that the army was able to defeat the terrorists.

The general felt such remarks were distinctly a bullet below the belt. The remarks prompted the general to say that 95 percent of the credit for the victory should go to the troops.

Fishing in the troubled waters was the opposition. It succeeded in netting in the general and held secret talks aimed at fielding him as the common opposition candidate if and when the President announces the election. With many in the opposition holding the view that the United National Party leader Ranil Wickremesinghe would cut a sorry figure contesting Rajapaksa at the polls, General Fonseka became their obvious choice.

Even the Marxist Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna has hinted that it will support Gen. Fonseka as the common opposition candidate, notwithstanding its ideological differences with the free-market UNP, Sri Lanka's Grand Old Party.

Rajapaksa was obviously agitated by the news. Suddenly the glow on his chubby face disappeared and dark patches appeared under his eyes, indicating that he is now a worried man. The counter offensive began.

Last Thursday, hours after the general returned from a controversial visit to the United States, he was engaged in a war of words with the defence secretary, according to the Sunday Times newspaper. The duel was not about the US Department of Homeland Security's request to General Fonseka to be a 'source' in a possible war crimes probe against the defence secretary, a US citizen, but over a question of discipline in the army.

Billboards that showed a jubilant Fonseka with his heroic troops disappeared from busy junctions. His pictures on billboards where he was seen with the President and his brother Gotabhaya, were tarred or torn. A hero has become a zero in the eyes of the government.

But the real battle will begin in the coming days after General Fonseka makes his political intentions clear.

An indication of his intention was found in the final paragraph of the letter.

'The peace dividend the whole country expected at the conclusion of the war has yet to materialise. The economic hardships faced by the people have increased while waste and corruption have reached endemic proportions; media freedom and other democratic rights continue to be 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.'

The rift between General Fonseka and Rajapaksa has not gone down well with the masses, especially the Sinhala majority, who regard both as war heroes. The ultra nationalists' ire is aimed at the opposition whom they accuse of dividing the Sinhalese. They even tried to get the chief Buddhist monks to issue a 'Sangha order' -- an edict -- urging General Fonseka not to enter politics.

But General Fonseka is as ultra nationalist as those who blame him for flirting with the opposition alliance -- which include parties representing the interests of Muslims and Tamils of Indian origin beside the UNP and former foreign minister Mangala Samaraweera's Sri Lanka Freedom Party Mahajana Wing, a breakaway group of the ruling party.

General Fonseka in an interview with Canada's National Post in September last year said he 'strongly believed that Sri Lanka belongs to the Sinhalese, but there are minority communities and we treat them like our people. They can live in this country with us. But they must not try to, under the pretext of being a minority, demand undue things.'

A majority of the Tamils, many of whom were hurt by the vulgar jubilation displayed on the streets following the victory, see no difference between Rajapaksa and Fonseka.

Disturbed by the deaths of thousands of innocent Tamils in the last days of the war and the suffering of hundreds of thousands of displaced Tamil people in camps, a majority of the Tamils are unlikely to support either of the candidates. However, the opposition alliance is trying its best to woo the mainstream Tamil party, the Tamil National Alliance, which was once regarded the mouthpiece of Tamil Tigers in Parliament.

A majority of the Tamils also feel that neither candidate is committed to finding a solution to the Tamil problem by devolving power, despite the pro-devolution UNP's presence in the opposition alliance offering them a glimmer of hope.

Another factor which worries the government is the possibility of certain state secrets coming out to the open in the heat of the election campaign. This might be damaging, especially in view of the international human rights community's call for war crimes probes against the Sri Lankan government.


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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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