Colombo: The Government of Sri Lanka has threatened to execute former chief of Army staff, Sarath Fonseka, if he continues to suggest top officials may have ordered war crimes during the final hours of the civil war against Tamil rebels.
Sri Lanka's Defence Secretary, Gotabaya Rajapaksa, issued the threat.
According to The Guardian, Rajapaksa, who worked closely with Fonseka on the aggressive military strategy that crushed the Tigers and who is the brother of the President, Mahinda Rajapaksa, told the BBC's Hardtalk programme that the general had proved himself to be a liar and a traitor.
Fonseka resigned from the military soon after the defeat of the Tigers. He is an MP and was the main opposition candidate in January's Presidential Election – winning 40 percent of the vote – but within days of his defeat he was arrested.
The former war hero is in detention facing a court martial on charges of corruption and politicking while in uniform.
Fonseka roused the fury of the ruling Rajapaksa clan when he joined the opposition, a rift which deepened when he suggested there was eyewitness evidence of the defence secretary ordering Army officers to shoot and kill surrendering Tamil Tiger leaders at the end of the war.
That witness is said to be a Sri Lankan embedded journalist who is in hiding overseas.
In a clandestine telephone interview, Fonseka confirmed that he had heard this account.
He said he would be prepared to testify to an independent investigation of alleged abuses during the Tamil war. "I will not hide anything," he said.
Gotabaya Rajapaksa responded angrily to the prospect of Fonseka giving evidence.
"He can't do that. He was the commander! That's a treason. We will hang him if he does that. I'm telling you! … How can he betray the country? He is a liar, liar, liar," Rajapaksa said.
The defence secretary also ruled out any possibility of an independent, third-party investigation of alleged war crimes committed by both the Sri Lankan Army and the Tamil Tigers in the final phase of the war.
"We are an independent country, we have the ability to investigate all these things," he said.
Bhopal: More than two decades after the world’s worst industrial disaster, the Bhopal Gas tragedy, a city court on Monday held the management of Union Carbide guilty of criminal negligence which led to the killing and maiming thousands of people on that chilly December night of 1984.
Pronouncing the judgement, Chief Judicial Magistrate (CJM) Mohan P Tiwari, in whose court the arguments of the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) and defence of eight accused were heard, found them guilty under various sections of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), including section 304 (A) (causing death by negligence). The quantum of sentence would be pronounced soon – the maximum punishment under these sections is two years.
During the 23-year-long trial into the deadly leak of tonnes of toxic methyl isocyanate from the now defunct Union Carbide factory on the intervening night of December 2-3, 1984, a total of 178 prosecution witnesses were examined and 3008 documents were produced while eight defence witnesses deposed in the court.
By pronouncing eight Indian employees of the US company guilty, the court accepted the CBI’s contention that defective design of the Union Carbide India Limited factory and poor maintenance were responsible for the tragedy.
CBI counsel C Sahay had contended that the Union Carbide Corporation, US, surveyed the Bhopal factory in 1982 and found serious safety and maintenance lapses on nearly 10 counts.
The accused who stood trial are: Keshub Mahendra, then chairman of the company; Vijay Gokhle, then managing director; Kishore Kamdar, then vice preside; J Mukund, then works manager; SP Choudhary, then production manager; KV Shetty, then plant superintendent; and SI Qureshi, then production assistant.
Another accused, R B Roy Choudhary, the then former Assistant Works Manager Union Carbide India Ltd (UCIL), Mumbai, died during the trial.
They have been held guilty under various sections of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), including section 304 (A) (causing death by negligence), 336 (acts endangering life or personal safety of others) and 337 (causing hurt by act endangering life or personal safety of others). Original charges of culpable homicide, which carries a potential 10-year sentence, were controversially downgraded by the Supreme Court in 1996.
Warren Anderson, the then chairman of Union Carbide Corporation, was also made an accused in the case. He was arrested, but later released on bail. Anderson has since been absconding.
Anderson remains charged with more serious offences. In 2009, even a non-bailable warrant was issued against Warren Anderson. However, the CBI could not process it.
The disaster was caused when late in the evening of December 2, 1984, plant’s safety systems failed leading to the mixing of methyl isocyanate - a key ingredient for pesticide manufacturing - to mix with water at high temperatures. Before the ill-equipped staff could take any corrective measures, the toxic mixture started to release clouds of highly toxic gas in to the atmospheres – killing thousands in the neighbourhood while in their sleep.
The number of fatalities caused by the disaster remains disputed. While the Madhya Pradesh government has officially put the number at 3787, NGOs working with the victims say more than six times as many were killed and nearly 250,000 harmed.
Although, the verdict has come but questions remain about the tardy manner in which rehabilitation of the victims has been carried out by successive governments. A maximum of 2 years sentence for the world’s worst industrial disaster…the wounds are deeper and will take more time to heal.
First Published: Monday, June 07, 2010, 17:52