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SLanka’s ex-army chief vows to ‘restore’ democracy

[AFP, Friday, 20 November 2009 10:08 No Comment]

Sri Lanka’s former top military officer who resigned last week promised on Friday to "fight for democracy" amid reports he will challenge the president at upcoming elections.

General Sarath Fonseka, who quit as chief of defence staff following a spat with President Mahinda Rajapakse, said he was committing himself to restoring the democratic rights of the people.

"I want to assure you that I will commit myself to protect democratic freedoms which we are rapidly losing," he said in a farewell letter to troops.

"I pledge to work to restore human rights, media freedom, social justice, ethnic unity and peaceful coexistence. I will be by your side like a shadow."

Fonseka is considered a war hero at home for his role in crushing Tamil Tiger rebels in an offensive earlier this year that ended the country’s 37-year ethnic conflict.

His military drive, which finished in May when the Tiger leadership was wiped out, was strongly criticised internationally by rights groups which claimed thousands of civilians were killed during the fighting.

The government, however, denied any civilians were killed by security forces.

Fonseka said his security had now been reduced to 25 guards from a contingent of over 200 when he was in service. He has also been ordered to vacate his official residence.

The government had previously credited Fonseka for successfully leading the 200,000-strong army to crush the separatist Tamil Tigers, also known as the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).

However, sharp differences between him and his political bosses saw Fonseka’s wings clipped with a promotion in July to the post of Chief of Defence Staff, a largely ceremonial post.

Fonseka had earlier accused the government of sidelining him because they feared a military coup.

Hoping to capitalise on the defeat of the Tigers, Rajapakse was widely expected to announce snap polls last week for elections before April 2010 but he said he needed more time to consult with party leaders.

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