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S.Lanka ex-general fears rebel attack

[AFP, Wednesday, 9 December 2009 08:36 No Comment]

Sri Lanka’s former military chief who led troops to victory over Tamil separatists in May said he fears fugitive rebels will try to assassinate him during his presidential election campaign.

Sarath Fonseka, who is trying to unseat President Mahinda Rajapakse in the January 26 elections, told AFP that about 1,000 Tamil Tiger fighters may have survived the end of the decades-long war.

Fonseka said that although the Tiger leaders had all been killed, renegade suicide bombers remained a serious risk.

"The Tigers still have an international network and about 1,000 cadres who are mingling with the IDPs (internally displaced people)," he said.

"I know my life is in danger, but many people and those in the military and the police believe that I am the one who led them to victory."

Fonseka, who was badly wounded when targeted by a suicide attacker in 2006, said the Rajapakse administration had cut his security protection despite his vulnerability on the campaign trail.

"My security unit had 25 vehicles when I was in the army, now it is reduced to two or three," he said. "But the risk is now even greater because I am contesting elections."

Presidential elections in Sri Lanka have often been violent. In 1994, the Tigers were accused of assassinating a top contender. In 1999, president Chandrika Kumaratunga survived a suicide bombing during her re-election bid.

Fonseka, speaking at his busy election office in Colombo’s fashionable Cinnamon Garden quarter, promised that he would curb the authority of the all-powerful president and make parliament more assertive if elected.

"I will not be a dictator. The powers of the executive presidency are abused today and democracy is in decline," he said. "I want to be the man to bring change."

Sri Lanka’s president, who is also the defence minister and commander-in-chief, is not answerable to parliament.

All presidents since 1994 have pledged to reform the presidency and revert to a British-style parliamentary democracy, but failed to deliver.

"I will not be like them," Fonseka said.

"I have a track record of keeping my promises. I promised to crush the Tigers this year and I did it ahead of schedule. My first priority, if elected, is to deliver on my political promise.

"If I can’t do that with the parliament I get (following parliamentary elections sometime after April), then there is no point in my hanging around."

A member of the majority Sinhalese community, Fonseka, 58, is seen as sharing a similar hardline nationalist platform as Rajapakse.

The two men fell out over who should take credit for defeating the Tamil Tigers, and their clash raised fears of a rift between the political establishment and the military.

Fonseka said Rajapakse had suspected him of plotting a coup against the government after the military’s massive offensive finally brought victory over the Tigers in the northeast of the island seven months ago.

"They (the government) did not treat me properly and they suspected the army of trying to seize power. That is an insult to the professional and disciplined army that defeated the world’s most ruthless terrorist outfit," he said.

The former general added that his latest career move had taken even him by surprise.

"The decision to enter politics was a very sudden one," he said. "It was a bold decision and a very courageous decision. From the military to politics is a big transition.

"I wanted to spend more time with my wife and two daughters, but I see less of them now. The first few days (in politics), I felt jittery, but now I am adjusting well and getting used to this new role."

Fonseka has the support of the two main opposition parties, which had criticised the government’s handling of the Tiger war, but observers say major ideological differences exist within the alliance.

 

Fonseka surprised his critics last week by agreeing to a possible war crimes investigation into allegations of human rights abuses in the last months of fighting — a move that Rajapakse has always refused.

AFP: S.Lanka ex-general fears rebel attack

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