Photo: Gotabhaya Rajapaksa by foto.rajith
The former Chief of Defence Staff, also the former Commander of the Sri Lanka Army, and more recently the main opposition candidate who ran against Mahinda Rajapaksa in the presidential election, has been arrested.
Sarath Fonseka's arrest came after a comment he had made to the BBC in which he said he would not hesitate to testify against those who had commited war crimes in the recently concluded war with the Tamil Tigers.
In an interview with The Sunday Leader (13 Dec 2009) Fonseka also accused Defence Secretary, Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, of ordering the executions of surrendering Tamil Tiger leaders and combatants.
However, The Sunday Leader printed a clarification the following week by Fonseka,
“As Commander of the Army during the final stages of the war, I did not receive any communication that some LTTE leaders were planning or wanting to surrender.
I was not told at any stage they wanted to do so and that some kind of an agreement had been reached that they must come out carrying pieces of white cloth.
I can speak conclusively and authoritatively on this particular issue and say categorically that nobody carrying white flags attempted surrender in those final days of the war. Therefore all of the LTTE leaders were killed as forces completely took over a remaining 100m x 100m area of land north of Vellamullivaikkal.
Two days after the war ended I learnt through some journalists who were entrenched at the time with then Brigadier Shavendra Silva that an illegal order had been conveyed to General Shavendra Silva by Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa.
This illegal order was however not carried out at ground level. I take full responsibility for what happened on the ground.”
By implicating Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, even in his clarification, Fonseka has most certainly angered the all powerful Defence Secretary.
Gothabaya, a retired Army officer, is the brother of president Mahinda Rajapaksa. He is credited with masterminding the strategy of the Tigers' fall.
Fonseka and his supporters on the other hand credit the fall of the Tigers to Sarath Fonseka.
According to media reports, even prior to the 2010 election there had been friction between the two. This animosity was perhaps a crucial factor in Fonseka's decision to run for president.
Several hours after Fonseka's comments to the BBC he was arrested by Military Police. He remains in the custody of the Military.
Below is a quote form the LA Times,
The government information office said Tuesday that comments Fonseka made to the British Broadcasting Corp. in which he vowed to testify in a war-crimes trial against the government proved his disloyalty. The government has strongly resisted any outside review of its activities during the final days of the conflict.
State news media said that in speaking to journalists Fonseka had divulged state secrets.
President Mahinda Rajapaksa was away from the island when Fonseka was arrested. Its possible that he may not have been aware of the arrest till after the fact.
Its a plausible assumption.
Mahinda Rajapaksa is a seasoned politician, a lawyer, and a former human rights activist. Gotabhaya on the other hand was a military man with 20 years service. He served on the front lines in tough combat operations in the late 80s.
In interviews with the media Gotabhaya has always appeared hot headed, short tempered and at times very irrational. This decision to arrest the opposition candidate bears all the hallmarks of his doing.
At what cost?
Rajapaksa's popularity took a dip when the Editor of The Sunday Leader, a stark critic of Gotabhaya, was senselessly gunned down by unknown assailants. The investigation into Lasantha's killing has gone nowhere a year after his death. The Rajapaksas have done little to push the investigation ahead, or to clear themselves of involvement in the slaying.
The president's popularity has taken yet another hit with the arrest of Fonseka. Protesters have taken to the streets in support of Fonseka, and Rajapaksa supporters have begun clashing with them on the streets. The law enforcement is apparently siding with protesters from the ruling party.
A quote from the Associated Press,
Government supporters — who decided to hold a counter rally at the Supreme Court — threw rocks and chased away opposition demonstrators.
"We were walking peacefully when we were attacked by government goons," said Marina Abdeen, an opposition supporter.
Police were deployed in the area but did not intervene until opposition members started fighting back. They then shot tear gas at them.
An Associated Press photographer said some opposition members had bloody head wounds. A hospital official, Pushpa Soyza, said three civilians and two policemen were treated for minor injuries.
Thousands of opposition supporters demanded Fonseka's release while burning life-sized posters of Rajapaksa. They also smashed coconuts, a local tradition based on a belief it could bring divine intervention to their cause.
In his second term Mahinda Rajapaksa had the opportunity to undo the damage his brother has caused. But, it appears that he has squandered the opportunity. Since the election the Sri Lankan media feels more threatened than ever before and democracy has taken a sever blow with the opposition voice stifled.
It won't be long before the people of this country question the path Sri Lanka is taking after the end of war. The masses will want to know who is in charge of Sri Lanka. Is it the president or his brother?
Amidst all this another generation of the Rajapaksa family is set to enter the political stage. Namal Rajapaksa, son of president Mahinda Rajapaksa, will be contesting in the forthcoming parliamentary elections. If he hopes to have any chance of running for president someday, he will need to work with his father on stopping his uncle dead in his tracks.