Rajapaksa Actions Politicise Sri Lanka Army

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Since his re-election for a second term, President of Sri Lanka, Mahinda Rajapaksa is clearly on a ‘purging spree’. All his actions clearly demonstrate his continued ‘dictatorial’ ways of cleansing opponents both in political parties, the media and governmental institutions.

The proud Sri Lankan army, which has rooted out the dreaded Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), is the latest to face the ‘surgery’ – all because of the challenge thrown by former army chief, Gen (Retd) Sarath Fonseka, first as joint opposition candidate in the Presidential election and second with the threat to ‘expose’ government ‘mal-practices’ in the execution of war against LTTE.

Many officers and other ranks, who were either directly or remotely associated Fonseka during his innings in the army, are forced to retire. Some are sidelined and are given peripheral appointments.

Five Major Generals, five Brigadiers and one Colonel were made to retire on Jan 31 that is five days after Sri Lanka voted in the Presidential election.

One of them is Chief of Secretariat at the Army Hqrs, Maj Gen GPR De Silva.

Two seniors who closely worked with the former chief were retired summarily. They are Major General Samantha Soorya Bandara, who was in-charge of Fonseka security, and Maj Gen Jammika Liyanage, who was the Military Intelligence (MI) chief to Fonseka.

Others who were axed include Maj Gen Mahesh Senanayke (Director, Procurements), Maj Gen Jayanath Perera (his wife actively campaigned for Fonseka in the presidential election), Brig Bimal Dias (Provost Marshal), and Col Tilak Ubayawardane of the Military Police

Two other Major Generals, Mendika Samarasinghe, Chief of Staff, and Gen Pereira, Deputy Chief of Staff have been transferred to inconsequential posts at the Joint Operational Hqrs.

Brig Rajaguru and Brig Udumalagala are told to retire early. They have been removed from their important portfolios.

All these ‘vacancies’ are now filled with officers considered loyal to the President and his Defence Secretary- brother Gotabhaya Rajapaksa.

These changes and the reported detention of a retired Major General, along with a serving Brigadier on charge of plotting anti-national activities will lead to politicisation of the Sri Lankan Army, which has remained to immune to political changes in the country. Another fall-out will be greater polarisation within the army.

Rajapaksa government is also targeting business leaders who may have helped the former Wanni War hero even in a very remote way. This is clear from the arm-twisting of the owners of the Colombo hotel, Cinnamon West, where Gen Fonseka stayed during the Presidential election campaign.

Fonseka and his political associates stayed in 70 rooms at the hotel. The charge made out against the management was that they did not inform the authorities of Fonseka stay at the hotel.

The Minister for Tourism, Asoka Milinda Moragoda, has called for an explanation from Cinnamon West owners. The hotel was forced to dismiss many of its staff members for the allotment, which was a mere commercial decision.

The authorities have also sought from the hotel details of alleged conspiracy hatched by Gen (Retd) Fonseka against the Government. This inter alia means that the hotel should provide CCTV footage of visitors who had come to meet the former army chief and a ‘record’ of telephone/fax communications.

Fonseka was arrested on Feb 8 on charges of committing ‘military offences’ while in service. He is accused of participation in politics, conspiracy against President Rajapaksa, and corruption in military procurements. He is held in military custody. He is facing trial under the Army Act.

A few hours before his arrest, Fonseka gave a press conference stating that he was prepared to give evidence in the International Court on war crimes committed by the Sri Lankan Government during the final phase of the Wanni War.

The Rajapaksa government holds the view that the military law applied to the former General since he had quit the service when left with less than six months for retirement. The prosecution argies that while serving as the member of the sensitive Security Council of the country, Fonseka had interacted with political parties and leaders who were working against the government. If the prosecution wins the case, Fonseka faces the prospect of a long jail term or even execution.

The Government is reportedly in possession of recorded conversations of Fonseka with Mangala Samaraweera, Somawansa Amarasinghe, Karu Jaisurya and some other political heavy weights. Also with the government are ‘tapes’ of Fonseka meetings with foreign dignitaries like US Ambassador to Sri Lanka, Patricia Butenis and Sri Lankan head of European Commission, Bernard Savage, while still in service.

Also arrested on Feb 8 were 14 supporters of Fonseka. Ten of them are retired army officers. They were all picked up in a raid on the General’s Election Office on charges that they were part of the coup plotted by the commander turned politician to overthrow the Mahinda Rajapaksa Government. Significantly, the police made out no case under the military law against them, though they were arrested along with Fonseka.

On Feb 18, the government suffered a setback of sorts. A Colombo Magistrate, Champa Rajaratne, released all these 14 Fonseka men saying that the Police have failed to establish proof of their involvement in the ‘plot’.

(* first appeared on www.policyresearchgroup.com)