"I am proud to announce... that my government with the total commitment of our armed forces, has in an unprecedented humanitarian operation, finally defeated the LTTE militarily," said the Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa on 17 May, 2009 after the death of the dreaded Tamil Liberation movement chief Prabhakaran.
Commanding the war that defeated the LTTE was Sri Lanka’s most successful Army chief ever- Lt Gen Sarath Fonseka. He had held various posts including the office of Chief of Staff of the Sri Lankan Army, which he finally resigned from to take over the reins of Commander of the Sri Lankan Army.
Fonseka’s successful stint
Fonseka’s service to his country was remarkable, indeed. In 2006, he survived an LTTE suicide attack by a pregnant woman, who had penetrated into the base hospital. After battling death for hours, Fonseka survived and vowed revenge.
Earlier in 2000, troops commanded by him offered stiff resistance to the Tamil Tigers, ensuing the fall of the Elephant Pass- a crucial victory for the Lankan governemnt. Fonseka was at the forefront in the operations of ‘Balawegaya’ and ‘Jayasikuru’, which led to the capture of the Elephant Pass and Mankulam.
During his tenure, he was also given the responsibility of many posts such as Colonel, General Staff Army Headquarters, Sri Lankan Army; Centre Commandant, Sri Lanka Sinha Regiment; Brigade Commander in Operation Ballavegaya; Deputy Commandant - 5 Brigade Group, Mannar and Coordinating Officer for Gampaha Gum Gumaga.
During the famous “Midnight Express” operation of 1993, Fonseka led his troops to rescue the besieged soldiers from the Jaffna Fort. His excellent handling of the operation saved lives of many men.
After the fall of the LTTE, a bitter rift emerged between President Rajapaska and Gen Fonseka. It mainly revolves over credit of decimation of the Tigers- who was responsible for the fall of LTTE and winning back the north and eastern Sri Lanka.
In fact, according to Fonseka and the Sri Lankan government, he was asked by the Department of Homeland Security of the US to give evidence against the President and administration on war-crime charges after he admitted to such crimes being committed in the war.
According to PTI, the Defence Ministry of Sri Lanka also claimed that Fonseka had planned an assassination bid on President of Sri Lanka Mahinda Rajapaksa for a coup on his government.
A General on the political front
After his rift with Rajapaksa, the ‘war-hero’ Fonseka resigned from the post of Chief of Army Staff. Rajapaksa then announced snap polls.
Later, he gave his resignation and the opposition parties pushed him to fight for the post of the President against Mahinda Rajapaksa. He agreed, ironically gaining support of some Tamil parties.
During election rallies, Fonseka severely criticised Rajapaksa and his way of handling the Tamil refugees. But inspite of everything, he lost the election to the strong and grounded political adversary. Mahinda Rajapaksa has once again gained power for another six years.
Expectedly, Fonseka complained of wide-scale rigging and use of unfair means by Rajapaksa to win the elections.
As soon as Rajapaksa came to power, he turned his undivided attention towards Sarath Fonseka. He was arrested by the military police just two weeks later. The General was practically dragged from his office and put behind bars. He was put under arrest on the charges of conspiring against the government and plotting to kill Rajapaksa.
His wife, Anoma Fonseka, approached the country’s highest court seeking release of her husband. On the other hand, the opposition parties stood behind the General and alleged his false implication by Rajapaksha. Nontheless, the famed former Army chief may now be court-martialled.
Anoma even went on to say that her husband was untraceable. She voiced her fears on the General’s whereabouts and that she feared for his life. Anoma’s anxiety on her husband’s disappearance came to an end when she came to know about him and went to meet him with a lawyer at the Naval apartment, where he is presently being confined. But the Sri Lankan government remains unmoved. "The gravity of his offences will flow from the summary of evidence collected against the former general," senior cabinet minister Keheliya Rambukwella told the media.
The Supreme Court of Sri Lanka has accepted the fundamental rights petition filed by Anoma Fonseka, but the Army will continue to investigate the General on the charges of attempted coup and assassination bid.
After his arrest, the government turned its guns on Fonseka’a family members. In a recent development, an arrest warrant has been issued against his son-in-law for his role in an alleged multi-million dollar defence scam. This has created more tensions for the General, who is already facing treason charges.
Help for Fonseka
Meanwhile, relief has come for Fonseka from unexpected quarters. The powerful Buddhist monks asked the Lankan government to clarify reasons behind the arrest of the war-hero.
Four monk bodies have now asked the President to release Fonseka. "We wish to stress that we do not under any circumstance approve of the arrest of former army commander Gen. Sarath Fonseka who risked his life for the country`s unity," the monks wrote in a letter to Rajapaksha.
In the meanwhile, a Commonwealth report has stated that there seemed to be certain faults with the elections held on January 26th in which Rajapaksa defeated Fonseka. Commonwealth secretary general Kamalesh Sharma said, "Even though on the day of the election voters were free to express their will, shortcomings primarily in the pre-election period meant that overall the 2010 Presidential elections in Sri Lanka did not fully meet key benchmarks for democratic elections."
The Commonwealth team has assured assessing the situation and the issue will be considered urgently. If the team finds fault with the Elections, the General will no doubt feel relieved.
Sarath Fonseka: Gulity or not?
Whatever the situation in Sri Lanka, it is necessary to clarify the situation as the faith of people and world at large needs restoration for stability in the battle-torn country. The people in Sri Lanka are getting very confused and impatient as to who is on the path of righteousness- is it their President Mahinda Rajapaksa or their war-hero General Sarath Fonseka? There have been protests and the situation in Sri Lanka is critical. Before the situation goes out of control a la Iran, it is essential to cool tempers with appropriate measures so that no fresh tempest builds in the Indian Ocean.