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Rajapakse rejects early pardon for ‘fool’ Fonseka

[AFP, Thursday, 18 March 2010 08:38 No Comment]

Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapakse has ruled out an early pardon for his election rival Sarath Fonseka and dismissed the former army chief as a "fool" who was unprepared for politics.

In an interview with Singapore’s Straits Times published Thursday, Rajapakse also spelled out his economic ambitions for post-war Sri Lanka and said it would take time to eliminate the vestiges of the Tamil Tiger rebellion.

"He is a fool. On 16th November he was sitting right here and I asked him if he was interested in contesting and he said, ‘No, sir… I haven’t made up my mind.’ Even on the day of his last visit he didn’t tell me," Rajapakse said.

"So I advised him. I told him that politics is not the army. In the army, when you have an order they follow. In politics you give an order and they react in a different way," he added.

Fonseka, who led government forces to victory last year against the Tamil Tiger separatist rebellion, was arrested by the military on February 8, two weeks after he lost the presidential election.

He is now facing a court martial on charges of engaging in politics while he was still commander of the army, and of making irregular procurements.

Rajapakse said he could have prevented Fonseka from running against him by delaying the general’s retirement until after the deadline for filing candidacies.

"But I let him contest. I didn’t want people to say I was frightened."

He ruled out an early pardon for his rival.

"But if I pardon him what about army discipline? What about the court martials of other officers? What can I do? This is the British law. They gave it to India and us," Rajapakse said.

"Fonseka himself put thousands of soldiers under court martial. At one time the figure was 8,500. I shouted at him and I had to release them."

On allegations that Fonseka was plotting a coup, Rajapakse said: "There was something going on. I cannot discuss all details as inquiries and legal proceedings are on."

Rajapakse also alleged Fonseka "placed cash of 700,000 dollars in a bank after the elections," referring to last month’s incident in which police were reported to have found cash in safe-deposit lockers held by Fonseka’s son-in-law.

"And that was only half the money and only because the locker wasn’t big enough to take more," Rajapakse told the Straits Times.

Rajapakse also said that, after ending more than three decades of civil war, he hoped to double Sri Lankans’ per capital income to 4,000 dollars during his second term and turn the island nation into an aviation and shipping hub.

Asked if the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam was gone for good, he replied: "No. There are sleeping cadres and there are interested parties, especially outside Sri Lanka."

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