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Sri Lankans demand release of jailed ex-Army Chief

Last Updated: Wednesday, February 8, 2012 - 20:52

Colombo: Opposition lawmakers and activists
on Wednesday demanded the release of Sri Lanka`s jailed former Army
Chief, shouting slogans and calling him a political prisoner
during a protest in the capital.

The protest came exactly two years after Sarath Fonseka
was arrested. His arrest came nearly two weeks after he lost a
presidential election to the incumbent, Mahinda Rajapaksa.

A court-martial in 2010 found Fonseka guilty of planning
his political career while still in the military and of
committing fraud in purchasing military equipment. He was
sentenced to 30 months in prison.

In November 2011, he was sentenced to an additional
three-year prison term for implicating the defence secretary
in war crimes during Sri Lanka`s civil war.

Fonseka has said the cases are a political vendetta
launched to persecute him for daring to run against Rajapaksa.
On Wednesday, hundreds of protesters gathered in front of the
Supreme Court complex in Colombo.

They shouted slogans and displayed placards that read,
"Free Gen Fonseka and all political prisoners."

Opposition lawmaker Tissa Attanayake called Fonseka a
"political prisoner" and said "he has been imprisoned on
political and unjustifiable allegations."

"We urge the government to free him unconditionally and
immediately," he said.

Fonseka was regaled as a war hero in 2009 after he led Sri
Lanka`s Army to victory in its 26-year civil war with
separatist Tamil Tiger rebels, and he and Rajapaksa were
immensely popular among the Sinhalese majority for defeating a
rebel group that had seemed invincible for decades.

But they had a falling out months after the war ended, and
their relationship deteriorated further after the general
challenged Rajapaksa in the January 26, 2010, election. He was
arrested February 8.

Fonseka was tried before two military courts. One
court-martial found him guilty of planning his political
career while still in the military and stripped him of his
title, medals, pension and other honours and dishonourably
discharged him from the Army.

Fonseka appealed to the Court of Appeal, but it rejected
his motion last month and let the conviction stand. He can
still appeal to the Supreme Court.


First Published: Wednesday, February 8, 2012 - 20:52

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