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Past haunts Fonseka

[Lakbima News, Sunday, 29 November 2009 11:26 No Comment]

A few decades from now, one who would essay the history of this country would find him in a conundrum if he is to rely on the official archives.

There, the line between the bravery and cowardice and traitor and patriot would appear to be hazy and no man would juxtapose that ambiguity than Gen Sarath Fonseka, the architect of the military victory against the Tamil Tigers.

Not so long ago, he was the embodiment of every detail in the military professionalism.

Peans were sung in his name along side with his commander in chief President Percy Mahinda Rajapaksa in the state run media and state orchestrated functions.

However, the imperious air surrounding him was contagious. Sources close to Fonseka confide that the General thought he

deserved to be promoted to the rank of a field marshal, the highest rank in the military. However, the root of the contention was that the Sri Lankan army with 208,000 ranks and file was too small to accommodate a rank of the field marshal.

The denial of the promotion along with many other reasons, some elucidated in his letter of resignation, propelled his fall out with his Commander in Chief, President Rajapaksa.

Now, after the sudden change in events, Fonseka finds that his past is a liability.

Paradoxically, the aspersions on Fonseka and insinuation of his culpability in some of the unsavory activities come from his former commander in chief, the President.

Rajapaksa told a group of newspaper editors invited at the President’s House that the Constitution could be amended either by a democratic government or a military government – an allusion that Fonseka is growing into a military despot.

Another reference raised the eye brows of the editors in attendance. “I would see to that pistol gangs would not roam around the country,” the President quipped. That is an inference to the hit squads which terrorised, abducted, killed and maimed and torched dissenting voices and media institutions in the recent past.

The President went on to say that the reports of the assassination of the Sunday Leader Editor, Lasantha Wickrematunga and the grievous assault of the Secretary of the Working Journalist Association Poddala Jayantha would be made public in the immediate future.

While we do not wish to jump into conclusion, nor do we wish to absolve anyone from the guilt; suffice to say that in this country, presidential commissions and their findings have historically manipulated to blackmail and slander political opponents.

Fonseka has preempted, telling media people that the government is trying to implicate him for the acts of terror unleashed on media personnel in the past.

He said he did not go to streets with clubs and guns to assault dissidents. “If the government says I got soldiers to do these things, it is an affront to the security forces. My army is a disciplined force,” he said.

But, Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa has made some damning allegations against his former army chief, accusing Gen Fonseka squarely on the involvement with killing and maiming of dissenting media activists.

Attack on media

Here is what the defence secretary said in an interview with a weekend Sinhala Paper about Gen Fonseka’s culpability in the suppression of media freedom.

“When he (Gen Fonseka) talks about media freedom, we know what had happened. Take the Leader. The Sunday Leader has been criticizing the President for years. But, nothing happened to Lasantha (Wickrematunga). He came to the President’s House to meet the President and even invited him for their wedding. Politics and media have the same tempo; they function very much like the same. Otherwise, how much Lasantha criticized the President in 2005 using Helping Hambantota. Take my case, when I took over the office, I was attacked with the MIG issues. I didn’t mind, but went to court because it was bad for the image of the security forces.

That is what happened to every media personnel. Take Mr Upali Thennakon. He was very close to the President. The President was shocked. He even thought it was UNP’s work. But, when we looked into it, we found who was responsible…since, I spoke in defence of commanders; I got entangled with these cases.”

That is not isollted. The ramifications of Fonseka’s candidature – and some of his very public announcements – and government measures to counteract his overture are now causing ripples in the military establishment.

Army Commander Lt General Jagath Jayasuriya on Thursday visited Kilinochchi; the main task of his visit at the 58 Headquarters was to clear charges, which his predecessor made in public, that the incumbent commander is not fit to hold the position.

General Jayasuriya addressing a meeting with the senior army officers said: “You, the Commanding Officers, Brigade Commanders, Task Force Commanders, and Divisional Commanders who actively participated in the mission to liberate the country from the clutches of terrorism are the witness to my contribution in the military operations against the LTTE.”

Earlier Gen Fonseka in a much publicized letter challenged the appointment of Lt Gen Jayasuriya as the commander of the army, allegined that Gen Jayasuriya had a pending disciplinary inquiry and performed duties only as a holding formation commander in the final battle.

A military officer quipped in a conversation with this writer that it was a first —the army chief and his predecessor battling out their differences in public.

The officer said many within the army are nonplused with what is unfolding, “but, surely, military won’t be spared of the (political) game… and when it is over, surely there will be lot of damage.”

Later in the week, close to midnight on Wednesday, a contingent of army, including six officers led by a Lt colonel arrived at the General’s House to seize the vehicles being used unauthorized – as termed by the military spokesman – by the Gen Fonseka’s security entourage. The military team was dispatched in furtherance to a decision taken at the National Security Council held earlier in the day.

Gen Fonseka objected to the visit which he said was an intrusion and was against the military quorum and the soldiers were sent back. Next day, he released several vehicles.

Security

On Friday, Military Spokesman Brigadier Udaya Nanayakkara on behalf of the Army refuted the reports that Gen Fonseka was deprived of his security.

“Retired General Sarath Fonseka’s request for adequate security has been already met by the Government and the number was one hundred in accordance to the security arrangements for a retired officer of the rank of a four star General,” he said

The military spokesman who has been caught in the middle of a dual between his former army chief and his successor is in an unenviable position. He took pains to stress that nowhere in the history of Sri Lanka is a retired high ranking Army official been given the number of security men assigned to Gen.Fonseka.

The bullet proof vehicle given to the General is in good condition and he was using it, he said.

He said the army did not make an impromptu visit, instead, it had been informed before hand. “It was not at the mid night as reported in media, but at 11 pm, he said.

“We had to go at that time at the night because that was the time the General was available and the vehicles that he used with out authorization were parked at his premises”, he said.

Fonseka’s security worries don’t end there. Later in the week, Senior DIG Colombo, Nimal Mediwaka wrote to Gen Fonseka reminding him the arrangement of security. That was after Gen Fonseka’s vehicle convoy has allegedly blocked the public traffic on the road near Thunmulla junction. DIG Mediwaka has admonished the security coordinator of the General that any future conduct of this nature would be deemed illegal. DIG Mediwaka said these instructions were issued in line with the Presidential order not to close roads except for the travel by the President himself.

The Commander of Army last week turned down Gen Fonseka’s request for five female officers be detailed in his security.

Secretary Defence Gotabhaya Rajapaksa says that “Army commander turned it down on the ground that there won’t be any control then. The government’s news portal (www. news.lk ) in one of the many slanderous articles on Fonseka took a broad sweep at Fonseka.

“Gen.Fonseka has requested five female soldiers to conduct security checks on women who enter his house.. However, this request has not been acceded as the reason looks funny.”

“If an unknown person( women or man) or any visitor arrives to meet the General, they would first meet the security at the entrance, prove their identity for the security men at the gate to convey to the General or his wife at the residence.

Female soliders

Therefore, informed sources described the General’s request for five female soldiers to be kept in side the house for internal checks as funny and hilarious.”

The official government news portal also took time to caution the readers of Fonseka’s political advent.

“UNP was trying to make Fonseka a Hitler in Sri Lanka” it reported in a headline story.

Another government inspired leak accused a companies Hicorp/British Bourne owned by the son-in-law of Gen Fonseka, Danuka Thilakaratne of receiving commissions running into millions from the transactions of military items.

The company is alleged to have received 2 US$ cents from every ammunition and 20 US$ from every shell sold to the Sri Lankan Forces. These charges are unsubstantiated, though the Criminal Investigation Department has launched an investigation.

Gen Fonseka replied the military procurements were handled by the Lanka Logistics Limited, the state owned procurer of defence supplies and the headed by Secretary of Defence Gotabaya Rajapaksa.

As he set off for an ambitious political journey, former army chief finds himself at the receiving end of a government which once fˆted him with every available tribute.

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