Home International Opposition protests arrest of ex-army chief in Sri Lanka

Opposition protests arrest of ex-army chief in Sri Lanka


Colombo : Sri Lankan opposition parties Tuesday protested the arrest of former army commander Sarath Fonseka, who led the military victory over the Tamil rebels before unsuccessfully running in last month’s presidential election.

“The general who fought the terrorists was forcibly dragged away from his office while having a political discussion,” opposition lawmaker Vijitha Herath said of Fonseka, who was taken away from his office here Monday night.

“The men who arrested him claimed they were from the defence ministry, but General Fonseka resisted, saying as he is a retired officer, he should be arrested by the police,” Herath quoted a witness as saying. “They ignored his plea and hauled him away.”

Major General Prasa Samarasinghe, a military spokesman, said Monday that Fonseka was arrested by military police for a military offence.

Later, the director general of the Media Centre for National Security, Lakshman Hulugalle, said Fonseka, who ran as the presidential candidate of an opposition coalition, would face charges in a military court of conspiring against the government.

Hulugalle said Fonseka was arrested for conspiring to topple the government and for creating divisions within the army when he was the commander.

The government earlier claimed that Fonseka and the opposition planned to assassinate President Mahinda Rajapaksa, who was elected for a second term in January’s election.

Fonseka was expected to contest the election results in the courts this week. He was also planning to stand for April parliamentary elections.

Fonseka commanded the army in its defeat in May of the rebels of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, which had been fighting for a separate state for Sri Lanka’s Tamil ethnic minority.

He was demoted soon afterward to the ceremonial post of defence chief of staff and decided in November to challenge the president with the backing of three main opposition political parties.

The ex-army chief managed to win 40 percent of the vote against 58 percent for Rajapaksa, according to official data.

Since the elections, more than 20 members of Fonseka’s staff, including a retired major general, have been arrested.