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[Gulf Times, Saturday, 21 November 2009 22:18 No Comment]

Hailed as a hero for ending decades of civil war, Sri Lanka’s most decorated general now looks set to challenge for the presidency – move that some analysts view with deep foreboding.

General Sarath Fonseka led the Sri Lankan army’s May victory over the separatist Tamil Tigers, achieved in a brutal showdown that eliminated the remnants of the rebel army and its leadership.

But after apparently being sidelined into a largely ceremonial role because of what he says were fears he would lead a coup, Fonseka resigned and now looks sure to challenge his former political masters at the ballot box.

“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.

Some observers saw the prospect of a Fonseka challenge as being behind President Mahinda Rajapakse’s weekend decision to delay the announcement of dates for elections next year.

Hoping to capitalise on the defeat of the Tamil Tigers, Rajapakse had been widely expected to provide a timetable for snap polls last Sunday, but said he needed more time to consult with party leaders.

In May, Fonseka’s troops wiped out the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), who had been fighting for nearly 37 years for a Tamil homeland in the north of the island.

Allegations of human rights abuses abounded, with the United Nations saying more than 7,000 civilians could have died in the final stages of the fighting.

And since the victory, Colombo has been criticised for not moving swiftly enough to resettle Tamils uprooted by the war.

Fonseka has added his voice to that criticism, telling Rajapakse that the government had failed to win the peace after the army 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,” he said.

Fonseka is thought to have clashed with the president and his brother, who is defence minister, in a wrangle over who should take credit for the victory over the rebels.

In July, he was moved from his role as head of the army to chief of defence staff—a more ceremonial position that has no command

responsibility.

He announced his resignation last week in a bitter letter that read like an election manifesto, criticising the government on a host of policy fronts.

Huge posters of Fonseka that had been put up throughout Sri Lanka were ordered down as he accused his political bosses of corruption, violating human rights, stifling media freedom and suppressing political dissent.

Analysts say Fonseka would pose a formidable challenge at the ballot box, especially if he could unite opposition parties behind his

candidacy.

“Boosting the image of the military has boomeranged on the government,” said Terrance Purasinghe, political science lecturer at Sri Jayewardenepura University.

[Full Coverage]

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