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Sri Lanka election: War of words between two camps

[Hindu, Sunday, 13 December 2009 12:41 No Comment]

A fresh feud broke out with Sunday Leader, an English weekly, hitting the stands early in the morning featuring an interview with the former Army Chief in which he has accused the Defence Secretary Gothabaya Rajapaksa

With four days to go for the filing of nomination papers to the January 26 Sri Lankan Presidential election, the war of words in the camps of majority opposition parties’ candidate retired General Sarath Fonseka and the incumbent President Mahinda Rajapaksa has taken a nasty turn.

A fresh feud broke out with Sunday Leader, an English weekly, hitting the stands early in the morning featuring an interview with the former Army Chief in which he has accused the Defence Secretary Gothabaya Rajapaksa of having instructed a ground commander in the battle zone during the last phase of the Eelam War IV (May 16 to May 19) to shoot all LTTE leaders that had come out waving a white flag with the intention of surrendering to the military.

Govt denies charges

Within hours at a hurriedly convened news conference the Government categorically denied the charges levelled by the commander turned politician and said that it was examining the contents of the interview for possible legal action. A senior functionary in the Government said that the Attorney General would give an opinion on whether the retired General attracted the provisions of the Official Secrets Act.

“The interview of the retired General is a great betrayal of the nation, people of Sri Lanka and his former colleagues. Since the end of the Eelam War IV in the fourth week of May, there have been so many attempts by so many quarters to defame the security forces of Sri Lanka on charges of human rights violations but the simple truth is up to now no one has been able to prove anything”, the Human Rights and Disaster Management Minister, Mahinda Samarasinghe told reporters.

Flanked by Information Minister and two other leaders associated with the ruling combine, Wimal Weerawansa and Champika Ranawaka, Mr. Samarasinghe said that the charges made by Gen. (retd) Fonseka are a contradiction of his own statement on July 10 at a function where he was facilitated for successfully leading the forces to militarily defeat the LTTE. He said that the contents of the speech have not only been reported by the local and international media but found a place in the 68-page US State Department report of October 22 to the Congress on the war between the security forces and the LTTE.

The US State Department report says, “July 10 – A media outlet reported on July 18 that at a celebratory event in Ambalangoda, Army Chief General Sarath Fonseka stated that the military had to overlook the traditional rules of war and even kill LTTE rebels who came to surrender carrying white flags during the war against the LTTE”.

Fonseka under tremendous pressure

Quoting from the media reports on the July 10 speech made by the than Army Chief, the Minister said that Fonseka at the function had gone to the extent of saying that he was under tremendous pressure from several quarters to order the ground troops not to shoot at the LTTE cadres and he had taken the position that the soldiers in the battle field who have staked their lives are the best judges to decide on such matters.

“It is instructive for every one to remember that Sri Lanka has emerged after 30 years of protracted war and there are forces still out there working for destabilisation of the island nation. We are sad and disappointed that Gen. (retd) Fonseka is wittingly or unwittingly working on their script”, the Minister said.

Triggers storm

Hours after the interview triggered a storm, the retired General held a news conference along with the Leader of the Opposition and former Prime Minister, Ranil Wickremesinghe and the ultra-nationalist Janatha Vimukthi Perumana (JVP) leader Somawansa Amarasingha. The candidature of Gen. (retd) Fonseka is being supported separately by the two main parties along with several other smaller parties opposed to Mr. Rajapaksa.

At the news conference on the prompting of the JVP leader the former Army Chief said that he was all eager to have a live television debate on various topics including the war with the President. Gen. (retd) Fonseka is scheduled begin public campaign for his Presidential run on January 18 at Kandy.

In the The Sunday Leader General Fonseka has contended that he had no information communicated to him in the final days of the war that three key LTTE leaders had opted to surrender to the military.

“Fonseka charged that communications were instead confined between the LTTE leaders, Norway, various foreign parties, Basil Rajapaksa, Member of Parliament and the powerful senior adviser to the President and such information was never conveyed to him as he supervised the final stages of the war”, the weekly reported.

The three LTTE leaders he is referring to are Balasingham Nadeshan a former police constable of Sri Lanka police and the political head of the LTTE. Seevaratnam Pulidevan the head of “LTTE peace secretariat” and Ramesh a senior special commander of the military wing.

Fonseka told the weekly that he later learnt about what exactly had taken place as a result of journalists who had been embedded at the time with forces in the battle field.

It is not the first time that Gen. (retd) has targeted the Defence Secretary who is the younger of President and other family members of Mr. Rajapaksa. Last week he had accused the Defence Secretary of curtailing his security and followed it up with a Fundamental Rights Petition in the Supreme Court. The case is coming up for further hearing on January 17.

[Full Coverage]

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