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Sri Lanka court jails former army chief Sarath Fonseka

[BBC, Friday, 18 November 2011 12:56 No Comment]

Fonseka was surrounded as he arrived at court ahead of the guilty verdict

A court in Sri Lanka has jailed former army chief Sarath Fonseka for three years for implicating the government in war crimes.

The court ruled that he lent credence to allegations the defence secretary ordered Tamil Tigers to be killed as they tried to surrender in May 2009.

Reacting to the verdict, Fonseka said that he did not accept the judgement.

He is already serving 30 months after a court martial convicted him of irregularities in army procurements.

Sarath Fonseka led Sri Lanka’s military to victory against the Tamil Tigers in 2009.

But shortly afterwards he fell out with President Mahinda Rajapaksa, challenged him in a presidential election, lost and was arrested on a variety of charges.

The court found him guilty on the charge of "spreading disaffection" – relating to a newspaper interview in which he apparently backed allegations that defence secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa ordered surrendering Tamil Tiger leaders to be shot.

The BBC’s Charles Haviland in Colombo says that this was the most serious of the charges against Sarath Fonseka and he could have faced a jail sentence of up to 20 years.

But the three-year sentence is expected to include manual labour, AFP news agency reports.

One of the three judges on the bench dissented from the verdict. The 60-year-old former general was cleared on two other counts.

He faces further charges, including one of harbouring army deserters.

Our correspondent says that Fonseka was highly emotional in the courtroom when rejecting the verdict. He said it was aimed at keeping him out of politics.

He was bundled swiftly out of court and taken away.

There has been some support for Fonseka in Sri Lanka with supporters staging demonstrations during earlier hearings.

He had been regarded as a war hero by many across the country and seen as instrumental in defeating the rebels after decades of conflict.

[Full Coverage]

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