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Sri Lanka defends arrest of candidate Sarath Fonseka

The government says that comments the losing presidential candidate made to the BBC divulged state secrets and proved his disloyalty.

February 10, 2010|By Anshul Rana and Mark Magnier
  • Sarath Fonseka's wife speaks to journalists.
Sarath Fonseka's wife speaks to journalists. (Eranga Jayawardena / Associated…)

Reporting from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, and New Delhi -- The Sri Lanka government defended the arrest of presidential candidate Sarath Fonseka on Tuesday on the grounds that he conspired against the incumbent who defeated him in last month's vote.

Fonseka lost by nearly 20 percentage points to President Mahinda Rajapaksa in the Jan. 26 election. After the count, the challenger accused the victor of vote-tampering and vowed to challenge the results in court.

Soldiers on Monday arrested Fonseka, the former army chief.

Rajapaksa marshaled political will, budgets and public support last spring to win the 26-year war against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. Fonseka directed the strategy and oversaw fighting on the ground.

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.

Since votes were tallied the government has accused Fonseka of plotting with ex-army officers and army loyalists to assassinate the president and seize power. It deployed troops around the hotel where the opposition candidate was staying on election night and subsequently raided his office and arrested at least 37 of his supporters and staff members.

Fourteen senior army officers who openly supported Fonseka were forced to retire and 40 others were transferred after the vote.

Political analyst Jehan Perera said personal dynamics between the incumbent and his challenger might be a factor.

"The fact that Fonseka is a war hero, new on the scene and attractive to voters worked for the opposition," Perera said. "By taking him away they have deprived the opposition."

However, Nanda Godage, another analyst who is a former Sri Lankan foreign secretary, said the government risked making a bigger hero of Fonseka.


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