Media blackout for the General’s valedictory speech; Govt. warns of politicising Army
The rain clouds over Colombo provided some shade from an otherwise sultry morning last Monday.
Below, at its sports grounds, the Sri Lanka Army, celebrating its 60th anniversary, was adding another chapter to its chequered history. Honoured as the first serving Army officer under the new CDS Act to become the Chief of Defence Staff (CDS), was General Sarath Fonseka. Earlier, General Lionel Balagalle served as CDS in addition to being Commander of the Army. However, his appointment was under Emergency Regulations.
Monday’s parade was the grand finale to a string of national events. Only two days earlier (October 10), the new Army Commander, Lt. Gen. Jagath Jayasuriya, had his parade. The defeat of Tiger guerrillas in May this year, added greater significance and made the events a focal point of public attention. This was particularly so after high-pitched advance publicity through the media.
|The mood was one of celebration at yesterday’s Army tattoo as the smile these female soldiers sport indicates.|
The CDS Act, passed by Parliament in June, made it mandatory for a serving Commander of the armed forces to be appointed. It was for a stipulated term of two years. Additionally, this historic event was one of several the Government had allowed Gen. Fonseka to organise, to mark the 60th anniversary, since he relinquished office as Commander of the Army in July, this year. It seemed a reward for his steering the Army in the military campaign against the guerrillas. Otherwise, it would have been the sole responsibility of the incumbent Commander.
Officers (54) and men (1190), representing all units of the Army, from Artillery to the Rifle Corps, were in their number one (blue) uniforms. They stood there clutching Chinese-built T-56 assault rifles with shining bayonets mounted. The exceptions were the Special Forces and the Commandos, the two elite units, which donned their camouflage uniform. They carried Israeli-made mini Uzi rifles.
Gen. Fonseka mounted the red-carpeted saluting dais on the Army grounds. It was positioned across the wall from the Army Hospital, facing the Galle Face Green and the Indian Ocean. Major General Mahesh Senanayake, the parade commander, was sporting Special Forces regalia on his ceremonial uniform. He marched towards the dais, stood to attention, saluted and shouted aloud ” Thumani Siyalla sampoorna niveradi. Pelapaliya obata barai. Niladari 54,.Sesu nilayan 1190 soodanam Thumani. Pelapaliya idiri kotasa keragena yamata avasara pathami Thumani.” (Meaning- Sir, the parade is complete and ready for inspection. Seek permission to carry on.)
Only moments earlier his parade 2-IC (or second in command), Brigadier Ajith Kariyakarawana, had lined up the troops before the saluting dais. He is Director, Staff Duties at Army Headquarters. Maj. Gen. Senanayake, is now Director Plans at the Office of the Chief of Defence Staff (OCDS).
Maj. Gen. Senanayake shouted hoarsely “Dakunata Balang” (look right). The troops, in clockwork ritual moved their heads to the right leaving inches between their chin and right shoulder as they marched in synchronised military fashion. Gen. Fonseka was at attention saluting the officers and men. The rhythms of late C.T. Fernando’s classic Hela Jatika Abhimaney, played by the Army band, added to the splendour and stirred up emotions. TV cameras rolled. Photographers clicked away as journalists selectively allowed to cover the event made notes. Defence Attaches from Colombo-based diplomatic missions saw more history in the making.
Half an hour later, the colourful parade, a historic national event, to honour the CDS, ended. Gen. Fonseka began his address. His opening remarks, “this might be the last occasion I would address the rank and file of the Sri Lanka Army” immediately caught the attention of most present. It was only last week; the Sunday Times revealed exclusively in these columns, that the Government leaders were well aware that Gen. Fonseka had initiated a dialogue with the Opposition. They listened attentively to what he was going to say. Some even wondered whether he would make a formal announcement that he would quit the Army.
Here is the translated text of his speech: (It is carried in full as it will give the nuances to what the Commander of the Army that led to the defeat of the LTTE is saying now – five months after Victory Day).
“This might be the last occasion I would address the rank and file of the Sri Lanka Army. I thank all those who are present at this parade.
“In 1947 discussions were held between the then rulers and the British on the eve of independence to establish an Army, in keeping with the requirements of the country. On Oct 10, 1949, the Army was eventually set up.
“The Army has progressed since then and there have been 18 Commanders. The Army has served the country in various ways such as controlling riots, preventing illegal immigrants, helping during floods and cyclones, during the tsunami, during strikes, which were aimed at crippling the Government administration.
“Of the Army’s history of 60 years, during the past 30 years the Army has been trying to liberate the people by battling the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) who were a threat to the independence and territorial integrity of the country. The LTTE was so strong that one of the foreign leaders, one of our former Presidents and several other VIPs were killed.
“July 2006 the army had to launch the operation to open the Mavil Aru sluice gate which was closed down by the LTTE violating all human rights of the innocent people there. This brought new light to the people and eventually by May 18, 2009 our forces completely destroyed the LTTE.
“I am humbly proud of the fact that I gave leadership to the Army to destroy the LTTE. Our forces showed the maturity of carrying out the war efficiently as well as keeping to discipline. This was the biggest liberation operation in the world to free hostages.
“It was not just due to luck that the Sri Lanka army wiped out the LTTE, ending a 30-year-old war, surprising the international community. The Army had to make lots of sacrifices and service to achieve this. The structural changes in the Army also helped to achieve this success. The fact that efficient officers were able to command the army helped to achieve this. The dedication of the field commanders and the efficient handling of the troops were one of the main successes in this task. My overall plans and supervision and the dedication of the officers and soldiers were the most significant reason. Their bravery was well displayed.
“Introducing new war tactics and providing the required training was one of my successes. The entire army was able to benefit from this. The Army was able to continue the war without giving a break for the terrorists and this was one of the reasons for the military victory. The fact that a high degree of discipline was maintained, corruption was prevented and the fact that the Army acted in an exemplary manner helped to achieve the success.
“During the past few years the officers worked continuously for the Army’s victory. Even the clerical staff forgot about leaving office at 4.30 in the evening.
“The war is something difficult, but those who were fighting the war willingly tolerated the difficulties as well. Those who were weak criticised the war. During the war, some of the talented officers had to deviate from the traditional systems to get the support of those working under them. The weak persons regretted this, but the talented worked under pressure and performed. I acknowledged the services of the talented by rewarding them and had to tell the weak persons about their weaknesses. The talented should be honoured.
“Those who really fought the war could be proud today and it is no secret as to who were those people.
“I should also thank the services of the Army Seva Vanitha unit that served during my tenure. Without spending time in criticizing the previous office bearers, they carried out their services efficiently.
“I also recall the services of the former Army Commanders and the retired officers and soldiers. We should remember with gratitude the services of those who were killed in action, missing in action and those injured in the war. Even the civil workers in the Army contributed. Their services should be recognized.
“After 60 years the Sri Lanka Army has turned out to be one of the most professional forces in the world, enriched with practical knowledge and experience. That is because the Army was able to keep to the expectations of the people. However, currently there is no war-atmosphere. You should continue to fulfil your tasks, protect the motherland and serve all communities.
“The victory gained by defeating the terrorists could be converted into a real victory if the people are able to carry on with their normal life. You should be dedicated to provide the best service to the re-settlement process in the areas that have been liberated.
“I wish to thank the President for the leadership and Defence Secretary for the necessary support provided to end the war which lasted against the LTTE for the last 30 years. I also thank the war heroes, their families and all people in the country.”
The fact that Gen. Fonseka’s speech came in the backdrop of a dialogue he had initiated with sections of the United National Party (UNP) leadership – and the newly formed Common Alliance, made matters worse. Readers will see the last two paragraphs of the General’s statement. In the penultimate paragraph he echoes the theme-song of the Opposition Alliance – the need to re-settle the IDPs (Internally Displaced Persons) in the Wanni camps. In the final paragraph he makes but a formal muted acknowledgement to President Mahinda Rajapaksa “for the leadership” – that’s all, and then to the Defence Secretary it is an even more muted acknowledgment limited only to the “necessary support provided” to the war.
President Rajapaksa had learnt the fuller details, as we disclosed last week, of such an interaction by his highest-ranking military officer with the Opposition through intermediaries. Most of it was via a UNP parliamentarian, who was once at loggerheads with UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe.
A local journalist, a staunch supporter of the CDS, had linked up Gen. Fonseka with this parliamentarian. He had carried messages between the two. Gen. Fonseka, as Army Commander, once assigned his commandos to protect this journalist and a few other colleagues. This was over claims of a threat from a group backed by a then Service Commander of a different security arm, a claim dismissed by that Service Commander as frivolous and fabricated.
The journalist boasted to close friends that he was playing the role of an important emissary. A businessman, another parliamentarian and a company director were among others who had been facilitating the dialogue at various times. Some lay dignitaries of a prominent temple in the suburbs of the City have been mentioned as having played a part in the developing episode. It is known that President Rajapaksa, Opposition UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe and Gen. Fonseka have close links with the Temple.
From the Opposition side, Wickremesinghe has also apprised some leaders of constituent parties of the proposed United National Alliance (UNA), including the leader of the SLFP (Mahajana Wing), Mangala Samaraweera about the developments that have arisen over the Fonseka issue.
The Sunday Times has learnt General Fonseka had expressed displeasure over the way he was being treated since the end of the separatist war. He had pointed out the need for collective action in the national interest against incidence of bribery and corruption. He had also given his views on other issues related to the recently ended military campaign against Tiger guerrillas.
On Monday, state-run television and radio networks completely blacked out all reportage relating to that morning’s parade and Gen. Fonseka’s speech. For any independent observer this appeared to be a clear indication that the Government was uneasy with Gen. Fonseka. Here was the Government that was justifiably proud of its Army for defeating the LTTE, and in which victory it was relying heavily to gain political victory, completely boycotting the very Army’s 60th anniversary celebrations. There was no mention in the official websites defence.lk, army.lk or the Media Centre for National Security (MCNS). On Tuesday, there was no reference in the state run print media either. Only a few private media outlets reported his speech, most of them playing down the critical elements in it. The black-out was all but complete, and indeed aimed directly at Gen. Fonseka.
It was on January 2, this year, that the General told the state-run Dinamina (Sinhala morning daily) “The biggest obstacle is the unpatriotic media. I am not blaming all journalists. I know 99 per cent of media and journalists are patriotic and doing their jobs properly. However, unfortunately, we have a smaller number of traitors among the journalists. They are the biggest obstacle. All other obstacles we can surmount.”
He would never have realised that exactly nine months and 20 days later, that one percent of “traitors” were no more his problem, but the “99 percent” of “media and journalists” who are “patriotic” were blacking him out. They were unanimous that Monday’s events and Gen. Fonseka’s speech were not fit for Sri Lankans to know. Not even considering what a soldier with 39 years experience and who gave leadership to the Army during the campaign that militarily defeated the guerrillas had to say. What a strange quirk of fate for a soldier who had the media running behind him just the other day for an interview, even a quote or a sound-bite.
Whatever Gen. Fonseka’s idiosyncrasies have been, and indiscretions are, the 60th anniversary of the Sri Lanka Army was a national event and Gen. Fonseka made the speech in his capacity as the Chief of Defence Staff (CDS), the head of the apex body of Sri Lanka’s military establishment. He was given the responsibility officially to organise the 60th anniversary events. It was a parade in his honour as the longest serving officer in the Army. Why then blackout news of this ceremony and the speech he made? Government leaders have remained stoically silent on the matter thus heightening public concerns further. But when the same media, especially the State media aired and printed various speeches by a variety of Government Ministers and deputies give broad asides on military coups in Pakistan, interpreting who patriots really are, and saying that the war was won by King Dutugemenu and not his warrior-soldiers, the cat was out of the bag.
On Friday Military Spokesman, Brig. Udaya Nanayakkara, in a statement posted on the website of the Media Centre for National Security (MCNS), said, “false news was being published using various printed and electronic media” about a “defect” between Gen. Fonseka and the Government. He said such reports “are baseless and not true.” His statement, however, did not refer to last Monday’s parade or why there was a news blackout. And, what on earth prompted this statement, if indeed these reports of a so-called “defect” between Gen. Fonseka and the Government were indeed “baseless and not rue”.
Even Opposition Leader Wickremesinghe, whom Gen. Fonseka has publicly accused of helping the LTTE, raised issue on his behalf. It was on January 1 this year, Gen. Fonseka told state-run ITN all the weapons to strengthen the LTTE came during Wickremesinghe’s Norwegian-brokered ceasefire. On Tuesday, at a Nidahase Vedikawa or Platform for Freedom meeting at the Jayewardene Centre, Colombo, Wickremesinghe said the Government should tell the nation why the state-run media blacked out Gen. Fonseka’s event and his speech. “If he made a wrong speech, it was up to the Government to explain what was wrong,” he said.
A move that clearly showed the Government’s displeasure over Gen. Fonseka’s recent behaviour came this week, when their leaders launched verbal counter-offensives in public. The first salvo came on Tuesday from the Government’s newest hatchet man, non-Cabinet rank Media Minister, Lakshman Yapa Abeywardena, at a news conference. He said there was a conspiracy to bring military leaders who had helped defeat terrorism and make them political orphans. He said he would appeal to political parties not to render destitute the men who have won “national respect and love.”
Speaking of conspiracy theories or branding others, as “traitors” has become a popular sport for Government politicians. It would have been better if the Media (non Cabinet) Minister explained why the state media which come under his own purview blacked out a state-sponsored function to celebrate the anniversary of Army, on whose back these politicians are currently riding.
What is also intriguing is why the unsolicited advice was directed at political parties instead of Gen. Fonseka. If indeed Gen. Fonseka was guilty of any breach of discipline or confidence, he should have been called upon to explain.
A more virulent attack however came from a more virulent politician who has widely acquired the reputation as Government’s ‘hit man’ on any issue. Non-Cabinet Labour Minister Mervyn Silva, told a ‘Jana Sevana’ public rally at Aramaya Place, Dematagoda on Tuesday, it was President Rajapaksa and his brother, Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa who steered the forces to victory against the LTTE. He was more specific in targeting Gen. Fonseka when he said that armed forces chiefs who are trying to take personal credit for the task, therefore, should not overstep their limits or swell more than their size. Silva declared “Kadulle tharama denagena kadabandimu, Thamangge tharama denagena Kalgewamu” (Pack your Pingo so you can easily jump over the stile. Live according to your limits.)
Minister (Non-Cabinet) Silva said, “For 30 years we had the Army, the ammunition, the Navy, air power, but why couldn’t the commanders fight the war? The leaders of the country did not have the foresight or could not take a strong decision. If only the ten Giants, like Velusumuna and Nandhimitra were there without King Dutugemunu, could the war against Elara have been won? The leadership was given by Dutugemunu. Similarly, it was because of the foresight, patience and bravery of President Rajapaksa the war was won…….”
Then came, the comments by Minister (Cabinet rank) Susil Premajayantha. He told a news conference on Wednesday that people in Sri Lanka were intelligent enough “not to vote for just anybody” at a Presidential election. “Look at Pakistan. The country is in a total mess since military strongman Zia ul Haq took over the rule in a coup from Zulfikar Ali Bhutto years ago. It disrupted civilian life and the economy. The trend of destabilization continues even today,” he said.
His remarks were not the best of news from a Government Minister to a friendly country like Pakistan, a nation that had helped in the military campaign against Tiger guerrillas. The best and most committed supporters of Sri Lanka’s ‘war against terror’ were the military Generals from Gen. Zia ul Haq to Gen. Pervez Musharaff.
Premajayantha also forgot in the process that his President has recently visited Myanmar and had struck a cordial friendship with the military junta in that country under Gen. Than Shwe who rules with an iron fist squashing any democracy and having locked up the Opposition Leader Aung San Suu Kyi. What is sauce for Pakistan is not sauce for Myanmar in the Minister’s history book. But then, he must surely have thought that if Ministers Mahinda Samarasinghe, G.L. Peiris, Milinda Moragoda think themselves as virtual Foreign Ministers of Sri Lanka, why can’t he also dabble in a little bit of foreign affairs himself – to hell with foreign relations with friendly countries.
However, what he was alluding to was the dangers of a military man taking over political leadership of Sri Lanka. One could not have made a more direct reference to widespread speculation over Gen. Fonseka becoming the Opposition’s common candidate at a Presidential election – or instigating a military coup detat’ , something (as we wrote in this column last week) that the highest levels of the Defence Ministry were concerned of in the immediate aftermath of the LTTE’s defeat.
Brig, Nanayakkara was to say on Friday that these statements about a rift between Gen. Fonseka and the Government were in fact, “illegal”. From where he got that interpretation of the law is unclear, but then if it were, legal action should first be taken against Ministers Premajayantha, Silva and Abeywardene for the statements they made this week clearly displaying Government uneasiness with Gen. Fonseka’s conduct.
Three key concerns
There were at least three key elements in Gen. Fonseka’s speech on Monday that was, rightly or wrongly, the cause for concern for the Government. The first was his declaration that “This might be the last occasion I would address the rank and file of the Sri Lanka Army.” It sparked off speculation that as a follow-up to his dialogue with the Opposition, he was now planning to quit the Army, and even Government service. He had already snubbed the President with a refusal to accept the post of Secretary to the Ministry of Sports. However, Gen. Fonseka had a different explanation. He told friends when his current tenure in the Army expires on December 18, this year; he would not seek an extension. On this date, he will be 59 years, and would, therefore, not have occasion to address troops again.
Thus, he would be out of the Army on that date and will not be eligible, according to the CDS law, from holding office. However, others argue that by being appointed to the CDS post for two-year tenure, his term would have been extended automatically. If indeed he plans to quit in December, then Gen. Fonseka’s term is going to be shorter lived than expected. On October 23, he travels to the United States on a trip, which is partly official and the rest holiday. He is a US Green Card holder and has a home in Oklahoma.
A senior Government official has arranged a meeting for him with US Assistant Secretary Robert Blake. This was before the recent controversy broke out. He will be absent for three weeks. That would mean, on return to Sri Lanka, he would be left with only three more weeks to serve as CDS if he does not quit before.
The second element in his speech was the reference to what Gen. Fonseka called “talented officers.” He said, “During the war, some of the talented officers had to deviate from the traditional systems to get the support of those working under them. The weak persons regretted this, but the talented worked under pressure and performed. I acknowledged the services of the talented by rewarding them and had to tell the weak persons about their weaknesses. The talented should be honoured.”
Senior Army officers felt the reference was to officers who, in Gen. Fonseka’s view did not contribute to the war effort. Those affected held different opinions and complained they were overlooked despite their contribution. Many alleged they were purely due to personal reasons. On Victory Day in Colombo on May 28, 2009, Gen. Fonseka gave commendations to five Majors General, four Brigadiers and two Colonels. Then Commander, Security Forces, Wanni and now Army Commander, Lt. Gen. Jagath Jayasuriya was not one of them.
Soon after he assumed office as Commander of the Army, Lt. Gen. Jayasuriya declared, at a meeting of officers that “though I was not rewarded then, I have now been rewarded by the highest in the land by President Mahinda Rajapaksa.” During his parade to mark the Army’s 60th anniversary, on October 10 Lt. Gen. Jayasuriya said, “I am happy that I made a contribution in the final phase of the humanitarian operation, as the Commander Security Forces of Wanni.”
Lt. Gen. Jayasuriya added: “The leadership provided by President Mahinda Rajapaksa as the Commander in chief of the armed forces will go down in the history of the country. I wish to note that his promise given to the public and the dedication, which no other leader had helped to achieve this victory. We salute the Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa who has the experience in the battlefield for the guidance provided. We cannot forget the commands given by him which were implemented through the efficient officers on the field.”
The third and perhaps the most significant element are references Gen. Fonseka made to Defence Secretary, Gotabhaya Rajapaksa. He said in the very last paragraph of his speech,”I wish to thank the President for the leadership and Defence Secretary for the necessary support provided to end the war which lasted against the LTTE for the last 30 years. I also thank the war heroes, their families and all people in the country.”
Quite clearly, what he said about Lt. Col. (retd.) Rajapaksa was far from commensurate with what he (the Defence Secretary) had done. Some facts are well known whilst the others are less. In his first year in office, President Rajapaksa, had wanted to replace Gen. Fonseka. It was the Defence Secretary who fought tooth and nail to obtain for him an extension amidst severe pressure not to do so. It was the defence Secretary who was instrumental in putting together a team, with the support of his brother Basil Rajapaksa, that ‘worked on’ India and managed to turn them around. He was the one who was able to have a direct link with the Commander-in-chief and make requests on behalf of the Armed Forces, including the raising of the numbers almost by two-fold, and it was he who stood firm in the face of external pressures holding the President’s not to yield. It would be grossly unfair to say the Defence Secretary just provided “necessary support” to end the war. It is well known he did much more.
The entire wherewithal needed for the war effort- both men and material – was provided by the Defence Secretary. His influence as the President’s brother opened doors for him both in Sri Lanka and abroad. He made several secret missions abroad to ensure that the supply lines for the war effort continued without disruption. Without this, leave alone winning, but fighting a separatist war would not have been possible. He was also instrumental in having the armed forces commanders rewarded for their role in militarily defeating the guerrillas. Gen. Fonseka was given a prime plot of city land worth Rs 90 million. He also received a duty free vehicle said to be worth as much as Rs 40 million.
At various fora where there had been bitter criticism, particularly during closed-door discussions at Temple Trees, the Defence Secretary had defended Gen. Fonseka. Ironic enough, it was he who saw through the rise of Gen. Fonseka’s career has now become his target. Whilst Gen. Fonseka was from the third intake into the Army, Lt. Col. (retd.) Rajapaksa came from the fourth. Though the defence Secretary had to call him Sir then, the roles were reversed when he became Defence Secretary.
Uneasy tensions appear to have developed. On Tuesday, Gen. Fonseka cancelled the weekly meeting he chairs with armed forces commanders and senior intelligence officials. President Rajapaksa cancelled the weekly meeting of the National Security Council that is held on Wednesdays. Defence Secretary Rajapaksa cancelled the weekly meeting, which discusses security-related matters in the Western Province on Thursdays. It is attended by the CDS, armed forces commanders, police chief, senior intelligence officials and is chaired by Lt. Col. (retd.) Rajapaksa.
On Friday, Lt. Col. (retd.) Rajapaksa cautioned that “if we don’t safeguard this (military) victory, we are going to face serious consequences.” The remarks came at a book launch by Minister Champika Ranawaka. The Commanders of the Army, Navy and Air Force were present at the event. However, the Chief of Defence Staff, Gen. Fonseka was conspicuous by his absence, though his wife was present.
On Wednesday night, President Rajapaksa and Defence Secretary Rajapaksa attended the Army’s 60th anniversary banquet at the Colombo Hilton. However, at a different end, Gen. Fonseka was seated on the same table with the two VIPs and the Commander of the Army, Lt. Gen. Jayasuriya during a five-course dinner. Participants said they did not see him in conversation with the VVIPs.
Before a trip to Singapore last Sunday, Defence Secretary Rajapaksa is learnt to have briefed both the Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU) and the National Freedom Front (NFF) about developments arising from Gen. Fonseka’s dialogue with the Opposition. Both have vowed support to the UPFA and said Gen. Fonseka would not be able to defeat the ruling party. NFF leader, Wimal Weerawansa, was asked by a journalist “Oyage honda yaaluwa mokkada mey karanna yanney? (What is your good friend trying to do?) “Mage honda yaaluwa? (he queried “My good friend?”), then declared Eya yuddeta vitharai magey yaaluwa wuney (He became my friend only for the war effort).
Lalith Weeratunga, Secretary to the President and Jayantha Wickremaratne, Police Chief, accompanied the Defence Secretary to Singapore. They were taking part in the first ever Interpol and United Nations peacekeeping partnership ministerial meeting. According to Ronald K. Noble, the Secretary General of the Interpol, the organization plans to deliver international police expertise, “more skilled police personnel and frontline access to its global resources in countries suffering or recovering from conflicts, in order to help them achieve and maintain peace and combat transnational crime.” Gamini Senarath, (Additional Secretary) acted both as Secretary to the President and Defence Secretary during their absence.
Gen. Fonseka is being strongly touted as the Opposition United National Alliance (UNA) candidate for the upcoming Presidential election. However, the CDS told his friends including those close to him in the media that he had not been invited by any political party so far to enter politics. He said he was following media reports regarding this matter closely but did not think it necessary to react. Similarly, he said, he had also ignored media reports when he was fighting the war. While one is not certain about the former, it is hard to think that the latter was anything but true. His response had come when asked about his candidature. The constituents of the UNA, besides the main partner UNP, include the SLFP (Mahajana Wing) of Mangala Samaraweera, Sri Lanka Muslim Congress of Rauff Hakeem and Democratic People’s Front (DPF) led by Mano Ganeshan – none of them being great fans of the General. The formal signing of the agreement constituting the UNA will take place next week.
Opposition parties, though not exactly the entire leadership of the UNA, have declared publicly they would welcome Gen. Fonseka to be the common candidate at a Presidential election. The JVP has indicated that such a move would receive its support too. Vijitha Herath who held a news conference at the JVP headquarters in Battaramulla on Thursday was asked whether his party would work with the UNP at a parliamentary election. “No,” he replied but added, “at Presidential polls it would be a different experience.” Mangala Samaraweera told a news conference on Friday, Gen. Fonseka was among those being considered. These comments are what have excited the Government and made it go on the offensive against Gen. Fonseka straightaway.
There is no change yet on Government’s plans to announce a Presidential election soon after the Vote on Account is passed in Parliament in November. Senior Presidential Advisor Basil Rajapaksa is to resign next week as National List MP. He is to be appointed Campaign Manager for President Rajapaksa. This poll remains slotted for January 16 next year.
However, the Fonseka episode has jolted the Government. A proposal to hold parliamentary elections and thus deny Gen. Fonseka and the Opposition a political advantage, Opposition parties claim, has not been abandoned altogether. The possibility of holding the two elections one after another is also not being ruled out. Some opposition parliamentarians say preparations for Presidential elections may be a ploy. The Government is somewhat concerned about the Sarath Silva judgment that precluded former President Chandrika Kumaratunga from enjoying an additional year after calling for early elections. President Rajapaksa was the beneficiary of that judgment.
“They may surprise all of us suddenly and say there would be a parliamentary poll,” said a source close to Wickremesinghe. Asked about the dialogue between Gen. Fonseka and Wickremesinghe through intermediaries,
, Kotte Parliamentarian Ravi Karunanayake replied, “I cannot confirm or deny that.” He added, “All I can tell you is that Mr. Wickremesinghe is free to talk to anyone, more so to a war hero. Sometime ago, the President, who is the Commander-in-Chief, invited him (Wickremesinghe). He obliged by meeting and talking to him.”
At the helm of the Army, Gen. Fonseka led the campaign that caused much damage and militarily defeated the LTTE in May this year. The question now asked is whether he would be at the helm again, with the Opposition, to cause damage and defeat the UPFA Government that saw him reach dizzy heights in the Army. UPFA leaders are confident he will not.
“My life is a mixture of politics and war,” said General Dwight D. Eisenhower, the 34th President of the US once in a letter to his wife. He said, “the latter is bad enough – but I’ve been trained for it! The former is straight and unadulterated venom! But I have to devote lots of my time, and much more of my good disposition, to it.”
Gen. Fonseka will also have to devote lots of his time and more of his disposition to the highly unadulterated venom that is politics in Sri Lanka. That is if he ever decides to enter politics. He will also, no doubt, have many dubious titles to add to his badges of honour and valour on his five-star uniform. UPFA leaders are persuading him both publicly and privately not to make the mistake of venturing into politics and becoming an orphan.
On Friday, the Magisterial inquiry into the killing of Sunday Leader editor Lasantha Wickrematunge took a new turn. The Magistrate was told that the suspect now in Police custody has made a fresh statement, and fresh inquiries are now afoot.
Meanwhile, while the Opposition waits in earnest hoping that Gen. Fonseka would join them, if not as a common candidate, at least by mounting their platform, the Defence Ministry has a valid argument. They point out that with the expansion of the Armed Forces to fight a deadly enemy, the Forces concentrated on combat success.
That was the imperative need of the hour. As a result, certain elements essential for the Forces – discipline being upper-most fell by the wayside. There is a need to ensure that this element is restored. If Gen. Fonseka wishes to engage in politics, he must leave his uniform and do so. It is dangerous when soldiers begin to dabble in politics while in service.
The Fonseka factor excites Rajapaksa Govt.
Opposition strikes up dialogue with deposed Army Chief
For President Mahinda Rajapaksa, the daily schedule in the past days has been punishing.
He dashed from town to town, village to village in an Air Force VIP helicopter. His ministers and UPFA stalwarts assigned specific sectors for yesterday’s Southern Provincial elections, were all on the ground and busy.
A victory for the UPFA was never in doubt. However, the heavy deployment had a singular objective – to ensure that the South returned UPFA candidates in larger numbers with greater majorities. That extraordinary thrust saw an extravagant polls campaign where money flowed as easily as the Nilwala Ganga. The use of State resources and even state power, a monopoly of any party in control, went hand in hand.
Independent polls monitoring bodies found that phones and fax machines in their offices were not working. No complaints of polls offences or incidents of violence could be received by them. Nor could they investigate or monitor them. The Officer-in-Charge of the Weligama Police, Chief Inspector Mahesh Kumarasinghe received transfer orders after a reported shooting incident at a UPFA rally. Election officials had to intervene to cancel it. The fact that it was illegal to affect such transfers during an election campaign did not occur to the Police hierarchy.
Unlike the PC polls in the East, North Central, Sabaragamuwa, Central, North Western, Western and Uva, the opposition parties were more active. Both the UNP and the JVP had mustered relatively large groups of supporters. Besides their rallies, they were engaged in discreet house-to-house canvassing. They wore clothes that showed neither their party colours nor symbols. That was for fear of attacks by rivals. The one man SLFP (Mahajana Wing) led by Mangala Samaraweera, doing the rounds in his own strongholds in Matara, urged voters to show their protest by keeping away from the polls. Samaraweera did not join the Opposition polls campaign. However, some of his supporters were to tell him they would show their protest by casting their votes.
|President Rajapaksa and Chief of Defence Staff Sarath Fonseka at the 60th anniversary celebrations of the Sri Lanka Army last week.|
For the UPFA, the outcome of the polls has an even bigger objective. By throwing all its resources for an overwhelming victory, it wants to demonstrate that the South has en masse endorsed the Government’s campaign in the north where it militarily defeated the Tiger guerrillas. Armed with that glory, the UPFA wants to launch its campaign next month for the Presidential elections. An official announcement in this regard is also planned. This election is slotted for January 16 next year.
However, influential sections in the Government suggested this week that parliamentary elections be held ahead of a presidential poll due to a string of political developments in the past few days. They believe that powerful but unhappy personalities within the Government could cause serious embarrassment and damage vote banks. UPFA leaders are aware of these aspects. Hence, they want President Rajapaksa to dissolve Parliament soon after a Vote on Account is passed next month.
Such a move, they believe, would deprive the Opposition from rallying behind one common candidate or obtaining his support at a presidential poll to defeat President Rajapaksa.
An elaboration of these matters is difficult due to their sensitive and secretive nature. Yet others were openly speaking about a referendum to extend the period of the current Parliament by three years, a move that is highly unlikely. The term of the present parliament ends in April, next year. President Rajapaksa was in a fiery mood during his campaign speeches. At Matara, he berated US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton for her remarks at the UN Security Council last week. She had declared, “We have seen rape as a tactic of war in Bosnia, Burma, Sri Lanka and elsewhere.” Rajapaksa said “Mama Clinton Nonata Abhiyoga Karanawa boru chodana karanna epa kiyala…… ( I challenge Madam Clinton not to make false accusations). State Department officials were to later issue clarifications seemingly backtracking on what Clinton said. (See News Focus on opposite page for details).
Nevertheless, the situation has been further confounded by a local radio interview Prime Minister Ratnasiri Wickremanayake gave. He told state run SLBC’s Subharati programme, “Hillary Clinton seems to have forgotten the Monica Lewinsky episode and should focus on her own backyard instead of making allegations of women being harassed in other countries.” The remarks incensed the US Government and a new controversy was brewing yesterday.
Joining the fray as a tail ender was the Army Commander Jagath Jayasuriya. In what is billed as an ‘exclusive interview’, he is quoted as telling the pro-Government website Asian Tribune, “The U.S. Secretary’s accusation has puzzled us. On what basis this allegation was made against us. Of course, the State Department has since retracted the statement and declared that they did not receive such reports (of rape as weapon) from 2006 to 2009. If that is the case, how could the Secretary of State make the allegation in the first place? Take it from me, the allegation is totally malicious. It is absolutely baseless.”
Senior Foreign Ministry officials who spoke on grounds of anonymity said events arising out of Hillary Clinton’s remarks have gone beyond souring relations between Colombo and Washington. “If US officials took a step back, the remarks by both the Prime Minister and the Army Commander have made matters worse. The US attitude against Sri Lanka will harden,” he said.
From election rallies, Rajapaksa hopped by helicopter to his new Presidential retreat at Embilipitiya. Before that, he even offered to send a chopper to fetch former Army Commander and current Chief of defence Staff Gen. Sarath Fonseka so the duo may together, as winners of the war, meet the people en route to election rallies. However, the Chief of Defence Staff was “busy” in Colombo with matters relating to the Army’s 60th anniversary and was unable to oblige his Commander-in-Chief.
In Embilipitiya, Rajapaksa chaired a rather poorly attended Cabinet meeting. Though Ministers were informed in writing that the event would take place there, some had already made other commitments in Colombo and suburbs. One of them remarked that going for the meeting from Colombo would have involved an-eight-hour journey by road both ways. At this meeting, the Cabinet formally decided that the Government would not present budget proposals for 2010. Instead, it would move a Vote on Account. Such an account is the Finance Minister’s statement to the House seeking Parliamentary approval of the obligatory expenditure that the Government has to incur.
The ministers decided that the Vote on Account would be for the period January 1 to March 31, 2010. They agreed to allow a three-day debate on the subject. Unlike the budget debate, there will be no Committee stage, where the allocations for each ministry are taken up for scrutiny. It was pointed out during the meeting that previous UNP governments had introduced Vote on Account in 2000 and 2002. The move drew a tart response from Opposition UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe. He charged that the Government had already exhausted the Consolidated Fund and there was not enough revenue to pay salaries of state sector employees. All revenue received by the Government including loans raised goes to the Consolidated Fund.
UNP’s Kotte parliamentarian Ravi Karunanayake charged that the Government had “hoodwinked the International Monetary Fund (IMF)” to win its stand-by loan facility. “It made promises to enforce several fiscal measures in the budget. Now, there is no budget to honour the promises it made,” he charged. The Government should make clear whether the Vote on Account had the concurrence of the IMF, he said.
After more campaigning on Wednesday, Rajapaksa flew to Colombo. On Thursday, he chaired a ‘Temple Trees’ meeting of the National Security Council (NSC), the apex body responsible for defence and security. There were two newcomers — re-born Treasury Secretary P.B. Jayasundera and Foreign Secretary, Romesh Jayasinghe. Ahead of the meeting, some of the participants were to congratulate General Sarath Fonseka, Chief of Defence Staff. This was after an SMS operator on a mobile telephone network reported Wednesday “Gen. Sarath Fonseka has been appointed as the Secretary to the Ministry of Sports in addition to his current position, says Sports Minister.” The report was later picked up by TV, radio and some of the print media.
It was the same service and the same mobile telephone operator that had on September 31 circulated an SMS which said “Tune into any local TV channel this evening at 8.05 p.m. and watch as Sri Lanka makes history. A message from the Government of Sri Lanka.” The claim “Sri Lanka makes history” turned out to be a hoax. It was an advertising stunt about the resumption of a railway network from north to the south. Perhaps, some politicians behind the move were unaware that the rail tracks in the north had existed until the separatist war broke out. Then, the guerrillas had dismantled them, to use the ‘sleepers’ and the rails to build bunkers. A Cabinet Minister boldly declared, “I take the full responsibility for this” but did not think it fit to say sorry to his fellow compatriots for the cruel joke.
Those who wanted to extend congratulations to Gen. Fonseka at ‘Temple Trees’ on Thursday were to learn that the SMS saying he had “been appointed Secretary to the Ministry of Sports” was also not true. Even to the dim witted, when a claim is made that one is “appointed,” such action is presumed to be only after he or she had given his or her consent. “I have not accepted any such appointment,” Gen. Fonseka told one well-wisher. To another, he said this was neither a subject he was familiar with nor one where he could give his best.
Perhaps, UNP pole-vaulter and Sports Minister Gamini Lokuge who declared he knew of the appointment could now insist he takes “the full responsibility.” However, his move could be viewed as a snub or embarrassment to President Rajapaksa. Without his authority, such appointments cannot be made.
Lokuge told a local radio station that he was proud to have as his Ministry Secretary a ‘Ranaviru’ like Gen. Fonseka. This seemed to be a counter to a JVP claim that Gen. Fonseka was being demoted in the public service. Nevertheless, Lokuge has created history. This is the first time a person is appointed Secretary to a Ministry without his own consent or acceptance.
In sports where records matter, here is one that is extraordinary. Was it another hoax? Alternatively, was there any other motive behind the move? That is in suggesting that the CDS has also been given the concurrent task of looking after a relatively low priority subject like sports. This is in marked contrast to high priority subjects like defence and national security. An earlier attempt to make Gen. Fonseka the Secretary to the Ministry of Export Development and International Trade also fell through. There is also a far more serious side to the matter.
General Fonseka’s exit as Commander of the Army, as reported in these columns on August 23 under the headline ‘MYSTERY OVER MAJOR MILITARY SHAKE UP” was hurried. More details of how it happened have now emerged. On July 11, as Commander of the Army, he was chairing a day-long conference that continued without a lunch break. It was part of meetings being held to plan the Army’s 60th anniversary celebrations that are now under way. Discussions continued over short-eats and soft drinks until after 8.30 p.m. An aide came to Gen. Fonseka carrying a mobile phone. It was President’s Secretary Lalith Weeratunga, wanting to speak to the Commander. He was requesting him to come over for a meeting.
Participants at the conference heard Gen. Fonseka ask Weeratunga whether the meeting could take place the next day, Sunday, if it was not very urgent. They later heard him say he would come over as soon as the ongoing conference was over. Participants saw and heard him receive a second call from Weeratunga. He hurriedly concluded the conference, which had lasted some 13 hours and headed for the meeting with Weeratunga. It was here that Gen. Fonseka was told he would have to relinquish office as Commander of the Army in just three days – on July 14. He was being appointed as Chief of Defence Staff (CDS). As reported earlier, this meant there was no time to say his farewells to troops in major garrisons, particularly in the newly cleared areas of Wanni.
The new CDS Act, passed in June this year by Parliament, lays down that the CDS will function “under the direction, supervision and control of the Secretary to the Minister in charge of the subject of defence.” There are also other important powers vested in the Secretary to the Ministry of Defence. They include: The Secretary may also recruit staff if it be so necessary for the office of the Chief of Defence Staff, in accordance with the administrative regulations and the rules of the public service commission as are in force. Where armed forces personnel are deployed for service in the office of the Chief of Defence Staff, such deployment shall be done by the Secretary in consultation with the Commander of the Army, the Commander of the Navy, or the Commander of the Air Force, as the case maybe.
Just a day before he was told to relinquish office, Gen. Fonseka was at a felicitation ceremony at his alma mater, Dharmasoka College, Ambalangoda. It was held on July 10. There, Gen. Fonseka declared that whilst President Rajapaksa had given the political leadership to the war against the LTTE, it was he who gave it the military leadership. Gen. Fonseka had repeated the same remarks at several public fora causing ripples in other quarters. Some complained this was “I, me and myself” syndrome over a task that was a team effort. However, one cannot deny Gen. Fonseka the credit for the exemplary role he played. He proved many of his predecessors wrong. He was firm in his commitment to fight the guerrillas. Thus, he had a major share of the success.
Other matters were also backdrop for the change of his position. However, they were not official reasons. The Ambalangoda event led to tighter security measures; so much so, the main Galle-Colombo Road was blocked for some five hours. It was pointed out that such stringent security was not in place even when President Rajapaksa visited an area. Invitees had to alight from their vehicles, a few hundred metres away from the school, be body searched and asked to walk to the venue.
The Senior Superintendent of Police in charge of the area had refused to proceed after he was told to remove his hat and shoes for inspection. This was part of security precautions adopted by the Army security team. Another was the arrest by the Millitary Police of the Aide de Camp of then Security Forces Commander, Wanni, and now Commander of the Army, Lt. Gen. Jagath Jayasuriya, on allegedly dubious grounds. One of the latter’s first tasks upon assumption of office was to get him released. It later came to light that the accusations were unfounded.
In these very columns we pointed out the co-relationship between the sudden removal of Gen. Fonseka as Army Commander and a news item in the front page of the state run Daily News to a military coup in Honduras where the incumbent President was ousted by the Army. It has now transpired that messages were trickling in, some rumour, some speculation, some Intelligence reports that the Army hierarchy in the flush of the LTTE’s crushing defeat and the wave of public euphoria was getting “too carried away” as one very close to President Rajapaksa would say, and unless the President acted swiftly, he would be face the same fate as the Honduran President; that it was better to be safe, than sorry.
Last month, the Reuters news agency in a report circulated worldwide said President Rajapaksa had given the military “near unlimited power” to defeat Tiger guerrillas and added he has now “moved quickly to defuse the military’s influence as he eyes another term in office and rejuvenating the war-hit economy. Among other matters, the report said:
“Barely three months after the war ended, Rajapaksa promoted his war-winning army chief General Sarath Fonseka to a newly created post of Chief of Defence Staff (CDS), which many analysts saw as neutralising the wide powers Fonseka had in wartime.
“Fonseka was kicked upstairs to the ceremonial post before he will be made to retire,” said a serving military officer on condition of anonymity. Rajapaksa also sent senior officers to foreign diplomatic postings or top civilian jobs and made Lt. Gen. Jagath Jayasuriya, who won a reputation for professionalism when dealing with aid agencies during the war, the new commander.”
In the recent weeks Gen. Fonseka has been the eye of many storms, some political and others military. Some are well known and others only by a few. Though he ceased to be Commander of the Army, the Government heeded his request to be in charge of arrangements for the 60th anniversary celebrations. For this purpose, he chaired regular meetings at the conference hall at Army Headquarters. Last week, Army Commander Jayasuriya was away in the Wanni when Gen. Fonseka stayed behind in Colombo to supervise the rehearsals for the Army Tattoo that begins tomorrow at the Khettarama Stadium.
The two Army top rungers will take the salute at different parades on different dates to mark the 60th anniversary. Adding glitter to the ceremonies this month are visits by top foreign military personnel. They include India’s Chief of Air Staff Air Chief Marshal Pradeep Vasant Naik and Pakistan’s Chief of Army Staff, General Ashfaq Kayani.
Tensions came into the open this week when Gen. Fonseka publicly admonished a senior Army officer for changing some of the arrangements he had made at the army exhibition at the BMICH. Younger officers and sections of the public saw the incident reportedly over the switching of some of his photographs and those of other VIPs.
The changes, to give prominence to the VIPs, had been done by staff of an agency tasked with arrangements. They insisted there were no motives or any directives from the top to do so.
Even to suggest that he be Secretary to the Ministry of Sports in addition to being CDS, to say the least, appears to be a demotion with the devaluation of the post of a Secretary to a Ministry – once the plum for any public servant. The thirty year insurgency has given the military almost dangerous precedence over the civil service in the country. However, it does clearly acknowledge the fact that with more powers under the CDS Act revolving around the Secretary to the Ministry of Defence there is lesser responsibility for Gen. Fonseka.
However, the Government of course is mindful of the contribution made by him in the recently concluded military campaign against Tiger guerrillas. Defence Secretary Lt. Col. (retd.) Gotabhaya Rajapaksa has made this point on a number of occasions, but he has been careful to say that the victory was not a ‘one man show’, but a joint effort of the tri-forces under the political leadership of the President. It will be recalled that soon after the conclusion of the ‘war’, he had to issue a circular requesting the media to get the Ministry’s approval before running interviews with Service Chiefs. This was clearly to prevent Gen. Fonseka from making remarks that provoked angry reactions from other Service Chiefs, particularly the then Navy Commander Wasantha Karannagoda.
Significant enough, the Defence Secretary re-iterated this position on Wednesday night in an interview simulcast on Rupavahini and ITN, the two state run networks. It came both in the backdrop of the Army’s 60th anniversary and yesterday’s Southern elections. He said the Government had a plan to deal with the LTTE after President Rajapaksa was voted to power in 2005. Here are relevant excerpts:
“Q: It is five months after the war has ended. What is the situation now?
A: We had a plan to complete the war after President took over in 2005. Everybody would have thought all has ended after Prabhakaran was killed. We continued our work. We were able take into custody KP. Many of the Tigers hiding in Colombo were taken into custody. We were able to arrest the Police Officer who helped the Tigers in a plot to assassinate the President on four different occasions, identify those responsible for the assassination of Minister Jeyaraj Fernandopulle, detect large arms hauls. This is all because we intelligently carried out work according to our plan. This is because we do not want to see the revival of the same situation we experienced for 30 years and ended it with much sacrifices.
Q: But what about future plans?
A: The LTTE is widespread you can see they have infiltrated various sections including the armed forces and Police….. Our aim is to completely end their influence…. We have a plan for this….. Therefore, it is important that President Rajapaksa is supported at this stage. People should not get caught to petty political ideas. The President has proved that he is working according to a plan. It is clear to the public how effective his plans have been. The international plan is very important, particularly the co-operation with other countries…….
Q: President Rajapaksa in his first visit to India said that he would talk with the LTTE. He has learnt from the experience of the past leaders. He was far thinking even in 2005. He asked for military co-operation at that time. Your comments:
A: President during his visit to India presented a report to the Indian Prime Minister. I prepared this in consultation with the armed forces commanders. This gave the strength of the LTTE, their plans, etc. The President said in the light of the findings the SF needed to be prepared to meet eventualities by carrying out offensive operations. He said it had been decided to enhance the fighting capability of the forces. He said the govt of Sri Lanka requests military assistance from India considering the long standing friendship.
He gave a list of the requirements. This shows that soon after he took over office, he had a plan. At this meeting, I further explained this to the Indian Prime Minister. Therefore, false allegations cannot be levelled against us. We directly told the Indian government about the plans. The President directly asked for military assistance.
Q: The arrest of KP:
A: That was very important. Secrecy was important. Until KP landed here, only a few knew about it. Some countries need this secrecy. We did that very professionally.
Q: Is it correct that details of conspiracies are becoming known following the interrogation of KP?
A: KP was instrumental in getting the weapons for the LTTE in various ways, by maintaining international co-ordination. He has a large amount of information. Only if we have all this information can we destroy the LTTE. A limited number of people have been questioning him and getting the relevant details. We are trying to get more details about the LTTE’s wealth spread across the world.
Q: Will there be any action against those involved in conspiracies against the Government?
A: Yes. In some cases, if they are not Sri Lankan citizens we will try to take action against them in their respective countries. We are aware about the local conspiracies as well. There are some who have been affected. Some believe that President should not be in this position. They believed that he should either be assassinated or defeated. This is a part of the conspiracy. Therefore, there can be challenges in the future. There are people, for petty reasons will try to help these conspiracies. It is clear these people will try to act in the future
Q: What is your message to public about these conspiracies?
A: There are various attempts. There are websites, which give wrong information. There other methods where money is spent to get power. It is important that they do not get caught in the conspiracies. They should back the President and keep their confidence in him. It is important they have faith in the person who performed, than those who promise to perform.”
The theme of Defence Secretary Rajapaksa’s answers was about “conspiracies”. He was urging people not to get caught to conspiracies, and to have confidence in the President. Amidst all these developments, speculation has remained high that Gen. Fonseka would enter politics. However, weeks ago, he dismissed them and declared he would remain a soldier. “Why should I get unpopular by getting into politics”, he had asked – then.
The highest levels of Government believe that the Opposition is in touch with a somewhat embittered Gen. Fonseka, who feels he has been shabbily treated by the Government after he had delivered the goods for it. Many say that his utterances and behaviour were the cause for his own downfall. Equally, the Government is uneasy. One top runger in the Rajapaksa administration put the Government’s predicament aptly saying “miniha nathuwath baa; athuwatha baa” (one can’t be with him – or without him). At these highest levels of Government it is believed that the Opposition is not so much interested in making Gen. Fonseka the Common Opposition Presidential candidate but to make him a source of nuisance and embarrassment to the Rajapaksa Presidency in the run up for a second-term Presidential election.
That explains the excitement within the Rajapaksa camp this week to keep Gen. Fonseka moored to the ship of state than wander off to the Opposition.
History has shown that both in dictatorships and democracies, military top men have found themselves in politics even before they could announce they would enter. Who knows it would not happen in Sri Lanka?
No Fonseka-Govt. rift says Army
The Military said yesterday that there was no rift between former Army Commander and current Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) Sarath Fonseka and the government, and that speculation to that effect was baseless and misleading.
In a statement posted on the website of the Media Centre for National Security (MCNS), Military spokesman Brigadier Udaya Nanayakara said that false news was being published in various print and electronic media, alleging a rift between the government and General Fonseka. Brigadier Nanayakara said that there was no truth in the reports and insisted that General Fonseka was still the most senior officer in the Army
went on to say that media speculation alleging differences between the government and Gen Fonseka had been planted deliberately, to create a rift between the government and the army — which had won public confidence and popularity.
He said the publication of such reports on the army was “illegal and counterproductive” and misled the general public.
Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) General Sarath Fonseka told the Asian Tribune today that he would never enter politics under any circumstances.
He emphatically stated: “I am a professional soldier and not a politician. I do not want to enter politics, but want to remain a soldier until my retirement. After retirement, I want to enjoy my life as a normal civilian, a life that I have missed.”The Asian Tribune quoted the CDS as saying he had no political ambitions and also refuted reports that his security has been reduced.
The Asian Tribune quoted government sources as saying that Chief of Defence Staff Gen. Sarath Fonseka’s security detail would not be reduced at any cost and that it would be provided even after his retirement.
The sources also stated that a near 30 year ruthless guerilla war had been effectively put to an end within a short period of two years and 10 months mainly due to Gen. Fonseka’s Battle Strategy, intelligence and daring tactics.
Military denies rift between Chief of Defence Staff and Govt.
The Military today denied a rift between the Chief of Defence Staff Gen. Sarath Fonseka and the Government, the Media Centre for National Security website stated.
Here is the full text of the statement posted on the MCNS website this afternoon. “Defence Military Spokesman Brig. Udaya Nanayakkara issued a statement to the media today (16) regarding the various bogus propaganda stating a defect (problem) between the CDS Gen. Sarath Fonseka and the government of Sri Lanka. He stated that the false news was being published using various printed and electronic media. He categorically denied such reports and informed the media that General Fonseka is still the most senior officer serving in the Army”.
“He went on to say that media speculations and alleged differences between the government and Gen Fonseka are baseless and not true. Such reports have been planted deliberately to create a rift between the government and the army which has won public confidence and popularity”.
“However the publication of such reports on the army is illegal and counter productive. Military spokesman clarified that they should do away with such stories for the sake of the army and the country, for those reports tend to mislead the general public”.
Only MR, Gota deserve credit for victory: Mervyn
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Non Cabinet Labour Minster Mervyn Silva said only President Mahinda Rajapaksa and Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa deserved credit for the military victory, and that only these two names which would go down in history.
“No one can call themselves number one in this victory. There is no way of saying that this one or that one did it. The heads of the armed forces and their troops were there for 30 years.
There were guns, there were bombs, we had naval capabilities and we had aerial capabilities,” he said while delivering a speech in Dematagoda.
The minister said that the reason that the former chiefs of the armed forces were unable to achieve the military victory sooner was because the country did not have a leader with a strong backbone or a sound vision of the future.
“It does not matter if we had had Welusumana, Nandimithra and the Dasamaha Yodhayo if we did not have king Dutugamunu to kill Elara. King Dutugamunu provided the leadership. Nobody can deny that,” he said.
He noted that President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s foresight, bravery and patience helped the country to achieve the victory. He added that Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa was a prominent figure during the battle of Vadamarachchi where they captured Prabhakaran but had to release him on the orders of the then president.
“History will record only the names of President Mahinda Rajapaksa and Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa and not the individual members of the armed forces,” said Mr. Silva.
Now Pakistan unhappy
Premajayantha’s controversial remarks
Pakistan has expressed displeasure over a Cabinet Minister’s remarks that destabilization in that country continues since late General Zia ul Haq staged a coup d’état.
“It is very unfair to say that as your Government benefited most from that military regime,” Pakistan’s Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, Nawabzada Malik Amad Khan told a dinner in his honour at the Colombo Hilton on Friday night. It was hosted by Deputy Foreign Minister, Hussein Bhaila.
Mr. Khan was in Colombo to represent Pakistan at the two-day Asian Co-operation Dialogue conference at the BMICH. He was alluding to the defence material provided to Sri Lanka to fight Tiger guerrillas when the late Gen. Zia ul Haq was in power.
Education Minister Susil Premajayantha, who is also the General Secretary of ruling UPFA, told a news conference on Wednesday:
“Look at Pakistan. The country is in a total mess since military strongman Zia ul Haq took over rule in a coup from Zulfikar Ali Bhutto in the mid seventies and the trend of destabilization is still in that country totally disrupting the civilian life and the economy. Even at this very moment nobody knows when and where a bomb will go off. The people of this country do not want that kind of situation.”
Earlier remarks by Prime Minister Ratnasiri Wickremanayake that US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had forgotten the “Monica Lewinsky episode” and should “put her house in order” drew a strong protest from the US Government.
Mr. Amad Khan who is Minister of State for Foreign Affairs in Pakistan is a former Army Captain.
Anybody cannot be President: Susil
Says military rule has destabilized Pakistan
Despite speculation about attempts to put forward certain individuals to challenge President Mahinda Rajapaksa at the next Presidential elections to be held in early 2010, the people of this country are intelligent enough not to vote for just anybody, UPFA General Secretary and Education Minister Susil Premajayantha said yesterday.
Addressing the media at the Mahaweli Centre auditorium Minister Premajayantha said ‘any one’ cannot win a Presidential election only because some busybodies want it.
“Look at Pakistan. The country is in a total mess since military strongman Zia Ul Haq took over the rule in a coup from Zulfikar Ali Bhutto in the mid-seventies and the trend of destabilization is still in that country totally disrupting the civilian life and the economy. Even at this very moment nobody knows when and where a bomb will go off. The people of this county do not want that kind of situation here,” Minister Premjayantha said.
“In Pakistan, some individual is raised to the position of ruler by pressure exerted by certain groups or factions. But you cannot do this in Sri Lanka simply because you do not find a ground situation to that effect here,” he said.
Voters in Sri Lanka are mature enough to choose their candidate and cast their votes for the right person whom they think could take the country forward. Voters are not ready to change the Presidency or the administration on the whims and fancies of individuals or factions.
“There is no doubt at all that President Mahinda Rajapaksa will obtain a 2/3rds majority at the next Presidential election despite who his opponents may be.
Commenting on the Southern PC polls results, Minister Prejayantha said the UNP has suffered a huge electoral erosion while the JVP has been totally annihilated.
The UPFA has been able to increase its vote base over the UNP from 32.7% at the 2004 general election to 43.29% at Saturday’s PC polls. The UNP has been reduced to 27% of the total votes polled at the Southern PC polls while the JVP has not been able to garner more than 5% and obtained only 71,000 votes in comparison to 162,000 polled in the local government polls in 2005.
“The UPFA has been able to record a steady voter increase while the UNP and the JVP are continuing to lose the voter confidence at each and every election. We have no reason to expect a different scenario wither in the Presidential or Parliamentary elections. Besides, President Rajapaksa expects to introduce a new Constitution with legal provisions to abolish the PR system as it has caused more damage to the country than brought benefits. Hence, the UPFA will campaign at both elections to obtain a 2/3rds majority is Parliament,” Minister Premajayantha emphasized.