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Sri Lanka ex-army chief faces new trial

[AFP, Thursday, 29 July 2010 15:15 No Comment]

Sri Lanka’s former army chief and defeated presidential candidate Sarath Fonseka was brought before the Colombo High Court on Thursday to answer charges of provoking violence.

Fonseka, who already faces two courts martial and two more criminal cases, was taken before a three-member "trial-at-bar" for the first time and charged, his attorney said.

"The main charge is inciting people to violence," lawyer Nalin Laduwahetti said. Some 20 witnesses will be called during the next hearing, on September 27.

The trial-at-bar dispenses with the normal practice of trial by jury, and is normally used by the state to fast-track legal proceedings in high-profile cases. If convicted, Fonseka could be jailed for five to 20 years.

Fonseka was charged under tough emergency laws in relation to accusations he incited violence by commenting to a newspaper that surrendering rebel leaders were executed during the country’s civil war, which ended in May 2009.

Fonseka maintained that the published comments — which suggested defence secretary Gotabhaya Rakapakse, the younger brother of the president, had ordered the executions — were in fact misquotes. Rajapakse has denied the charge.

A retired four-star general, Fonseka led the Sri Lankan army to a spectacular victory against Tamil Tiger rebels in May last year, ending the island’s 37-year separatist conflict.

But he has since fallen out with the government and says the legal cases against him are politically motivated.

Fonseka made an unsuccessful bid to unseat Rajapakse at elections in January, but went on to win a seat at April parliamentary polls.

He is currently in military custody, facing two courts martial for allegedly dabbling in politics while in uniform and illegally awarding contracts to a company in which his son-in-law had an interest.

[Full Coverage]

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