General Sarath Fonseka’s statement creates a furore
  • Sunday Leader editor stands by her story
  • Crossovers rise with election fever
  • Sarath N. Silva giving legal advice to UNF and JVP leaders
  • Ratwatte pledges support to President
A sensational statement made by common opposition candidate General (retired) Sarath Fonseka during an interview he had had with The Sunday Leader last Sunday has created a furor not only in the political circles but also in the entire country.

The Sunday Leader in this interview quoted General Fonseka as saying that during the final stage of the war three LTTE leaders B. Nadesan, Pulidevan and Ramesh approached the troops for surrendering with white flags held aloft and they were shot dead by the army on orders issued by Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa.
The international news agencies like the AFP lost no time in carrying General Fonseka’s statement to all corners of the world. Online news services and TV channels such as the CNN and Al Jazeera later broadcast this news giving it much prominence.

General Fonseka’s statement, no doubt, had come as a godsend to the Tamil diaspora and the LTTE sympathisers living in countries such as Canada, The United Kingdom, and the United States of America. Swinging into action immediately, they made appeals to the UN Secretary General and the UNHRC to launch investigations into human rights violations and war crimes committed in Sri Lanka.

Meanwhile, General Fonseka held a media briefing at Jaic Hilton last Sunday. At this media briefing where JVP leader Somawansa Amarasinghe and SLFP (M) leader were also associated with him, he observed a studious silence regarding the controversial interview given by him, carried as page one lead story by the Sunday Leader on the same day.

If the newspaper had misquoted him or distorted what he had said, he could say so in a rebuttal at this media briefing.
With General Fonseka’s statement making news the world over, the government found itself placed in a very embarrassing situation. It was only a few weeks ago that US Assistant Secretary of State Robert O. Blake had submitted a report to the US Senate accusing Sri Lankan security forces of having committed war crimes. However, Blake during his recent visit to Sri Lanka expressed his satisfaction with the way the government was handling its major issues adding that the US was keen on improving its ties with Sri Lanka.

However, the statement made by General Fonseka regarding the alleged execution of the three LTTE leaders by the Sri Lankan army caused an immediate turnaround in the attitude of the US towards Sri Lanka.
Damaging statement triggers a new round of Sri Lanka bashing

For instance, addressing a media briefing held at the US State department, Assistant Secretary Phillip J. Crawley had said that the US would support the investigations into human rights violations in Sri Lanka being conducted by the UN, adding that he hoped that the investigations would lead to the finding of persons responsible for the violation of human rights.

A journalist at this media briefing had referred to the `disclosure’ made by General Fonseka about orders given by the Sri Lanka government to execute several thousands of LTTE cadres who were to surrender, and asked Crawley: “The UN is investigating this matter. What is your reaction to it?” Crawley had replied that they were closely monitoring the UN investigations and they too had sent a report to the UN. “We are asking the Sri Lankan government to stop forthwith human rights violations. We continue to watch the situation.”

The government now faces the prospect of providing explanations to the UNHRC, US State department and the EU. Meanwhile, the government is placed in the unenviable position of having to reply whenever allegations are made against the government at other international forums as well.

General Fonseka tries to make amends too late
When General Fonseka realised the gravity of his statement, one day later, it was already too late. The damage had already been done. Both the JVP and the SLFP (M) as well as Mangala Samaraweera and Anura Kumara Dissanayake who are his mentors were deeply disconcerted. They discussed possible damage control measures with General Fonseka. The special media briefing held at General Fonseka’s main election office at Rajakeeya Mawatha, Colombo 7 was the outcome of this discussion.

General Fonseka at this briefing emphasised that the troops had not committed any crime in the battle field, and that the LTTE leaders had not approached the ground troops displaying white flags during the last two days of the decisive battle. He took up the position that the Sunday Leader journalist had presented an incorrect version of what he said having misunderstood him. He also said that he did not think that the journalist had deliberately misreported what he said and he hoped that on the Sunday Leader authorities would carry a correction.

The Sunday Leader editor stands by her story
It is now understood that General Fonseka has not so far informed the Sunday Leader he has been misreported nor has he asked that a correction be carried. Meanwhile, the Sunday Leader editor has said that she stands by the impugned statement by General Fonseka. It is unimaginable that The Sunday Leader, now a respondent in a case filed against it by Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa would dare publish distorted or wrong news relating to him. The editor maintains that she faithfully reported what General Fonseka said and that she has in her possession the tape recording of the interview.

Widespread protests greet the statement
Meanwhile, Mass Media Minister Lakshman Yapa Abeywardena told a media briefing held in Colombo that the false statement made by General Fonseka that the white flag-carrying LTTE leaders who wanted to surrender were executed on orders from Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa has caused serious prejudice to Division 58 commander Shavendra Silva.
General Fonseka’s statement which many describe as `irresponsible’ has come in for flak from numerous civil organisations and individuals in the country. People in Matale, the birthplace of Major General Shavendra Silva staged a protest against General Fonseka for causing serious embarrassment to the war hero hailing from their locality.

National Freedom Front leader Wimal Weerawansa had urged the government to hold an inquiry into this statement. He also had said that he was making a complaint to the CID regarding the statement.
Certain statements General Fonseka made fielding questions by media personnel at his maiden media briefing created ripples of embarrassment in his camp itself. He said that if elected President, he would implement the economic policies of the UNP and go beyond the 13th Amendment in a bid to solve the national question to much discomfiture of the JVP. Aggrieved JVP leaders had to advise the General to bridle his tongue at the subsequent press briefings and public meetings.

Nowadays it has become a practice for Anura Kumara Dissanayake and Mangala Samaraweera to sit on either side of General Fonseka at media briefings. These two would usually answer questions fired at General Fonseka. The General, as mentioned in this column on a previous occasion, is under instructions to restrict his public speeches to 15 minutes and press briefings to 45 minutes!
President Mahinda Rajapaksa the other day had a meeting with journalists. General Fonseka too held a similar `Suhada Hamuwa’

with media personnel at Hotel Taj Samudra last Monday. At this meeting General Fonseka went round chatting to journalists. Meanwhile, he had to answer questions from his guests as well. JVP’s Vijitha Herath was seen at this meeting following the General like his shadow, in an obvious bid to `rescue’ the latter from possible embarrassing situations.

The statement General Fonseka made to the Sunday Leader has served as a signal to Sri Lanka’s detractors to revive the issue relating to the controversial video footage shown by Channel 4. Sri Lankan Government proved that the impugned video tape showing several civilians being gunned down in execution-style by men of the Sri Lanka Army is nothing but a fabrication, with evidence unearthed by a team of experts.
However, London Times online website has begun making use of General Fonseka’s statement to support the view that the video tape is genuine.

Some statements made on several previous occasions as well by the retired General when he was the army commander caused immense embarrassment to Sri Lanka. Once he created an unnecessary controversy when he had told Canada’s national daily `National Post’

that Sri Lanka is the country of the Sinhalese and India is the home of Tamils. Therefore, the Tamils should go back to India. The Tamil Diaspora reacted to this statement with anger and outrage. He made another gaffe when he described the Tamil Nadu politicians as `jokers’ drawing a howl of protests from that state. The Defence Secretary was compelled to advise Fonseka not to make such irresponsible statements when the Tamil Nadu government lodged a strong protest against the General’s statement.
Political analysts wonder how General Fonseka, sans any experience in politics and wont to talk out of turn, could carry out a successful election campaign.

Why did General Fonseka make the statement?
Meanwhile, General Fonseka’s impugned statement continues to attract various comments from political analysts. Some opine that he made the statement with the intention of winning over the Tamil votes. Some think that he wanted to show the world that he had nothing to do with war crimes. Some others think that the statement betrays a devious plan to make the Defence Secretary the scapegoat in case Sri Lanka is arraigned before the International Court of Justice for war crimes.

When General Fonseka found that his statement was going to boomerang on him, he told a press briefing held last Monday that the war was prosecuted on his orders and that he was taking the full responsibility for what had happened in the battle field. He may have said so in order to win over the Sinhala electorate. President Rajapaksa had declared earlier that he would not betray the armed forces and he was prepared to go to gallows on behalf of security personnel who fought the war. The General may have taken a cue from the President’s statement.

It is natural unexpected and unforeseen things could happen when war is raging. In a fierce fight, combatants do not select their victims. Even civilians getting killed in crossfire is not something unusual. Numerous such incidents had occurred in war theatres in Afghanistan and Iraq in the recent past, according to reports. However, international human rights organisations have made no fuss over such incidents.
However, the conduct of General Fonseka has incurred the displeasure not only of masses in the country, but also of our war heroes.

Crossovers as election fever rises

Political crossovers have begun as usual with the mounting of the election fever. It was UNP national organier S. B. Dissanayake who set the ball rolling with his crossover to the government pledging his support to President Mahinda Rajapaksa.
SB quit the UNP protesting against the party’s decision not to field a candidate of its own at the upcoming Presidential election. Johnston Fernando and Indika Bandaranayake who were on the same wavelength with SB joined the government vowing to throw in their lot with President Rajapaksa. They were sworn in as Ministers of the government soon after. Meanwhile, UPFA MP Arjuna Ranatunga making his appearance at a press briefing last Thursday announced his support to General Sarath Fonseka.

Why Arjuna decided to defect

Arjuna Ranatunga who entered politics on an invitation by former President Chandrika Kumaratunga was returned to Parliament on the UPFA ticket from the Colombo district. He was later appointed the Deputy Minister of Sports. However, Arjuna who captained the national cricket team that won the World Cup in 1996 was not happy with anything short of the Sports Ministerial portfolio. A highly disappointed Arjuna was later appointed the Chairman of the Interim Committee on National Cricket. However, he resigned from this position following protracted clashes with Sports Minister Gamini Lokuge. His rivals, Jayantha Dharmadasa and Thilanga Sumatipala, occupying high positions in the field of sports under the present government have further contributed to his displeasure with the government leadership. Arjuna also figured in the behind the scene attempt to defeat the 2007 annual budget made by a group led by Mangala Samaraweera and Sripati Suriyarachchi. Anura Bandaranaike, Wijedasa Rajapakshe and Arjuna Ranatunga too had initially agreed to vote against the Budget. However, Arjuna on that occasion had second thoughts about voting against the government due to pressures from his father Reggie Ranatunga and his family members. He has now decided to back General Fonseka giving in to pressures from the family of his wife.

UNP scraps post of National Organiser

The UNP Working Committee met at Sirikotha last Thursday. The Committee at this meeting was expected to take up a proposal to appoint Sajith Premadsa to the now vacant office of National Organiser. However, the Committee decided to scrap this office on a proposal by party leader Ranil Wickremesinghe. The Committee also decided to expel from the party both Johnston Fernando and Indika Bandaranayake for publicly criticising the party decision to support the candidature of the common opposition candidate General Sarath Fonseka.

`Myown’ Mustaffa loses his UNP membership

The Committee also decided to terminate the party membership of M.M. Mustaffa who was elected to Parliament on the party ticket for seeking to contest the Presidential election as an independent candidate. Mustaffa who was part of the 17-member dissident group of the UNP that crossed over to the government is a popular politician in Kalmunai area. He was later appointed the Deputy Minister of Higher Education. However, Minister Prof. Wiswa Warnapala had not assigned or delegated any function to him. He had to furbish up his office too at his own expense. He had complained that he was being cold-shouldered by University Grants Commission Chairman Gamini Samaranayake. Therefore, he could not even help a student selected for admission to university to obtain a transfer to a university of his choice. Deeply disappointed, Mustaffa shifted his office from the High Education Ministry premises about a year ago. He felt further aggrieved when he was denied any active role in the implementation of the `Negenahira Navodaya’ (Reawakening of the East) programme. Under these circumstances Mustaffa who met the Muslim clergy and his supporters at Saindamaradu last weekend informed them of his decision to contest the Presidential election as an independent candidate. He refused to change his decision despite appeals to him by many supporters to withdraw from the contest.

Mustaffa made several overtures to re-join the UNP. But all his attempts to return to the fold failed due to objections raised by SLMC leader Rauff Hakeem, now a co-founder of the UNF. Mustaffa has reportedly told his close associates that he proposed to quit politics after the Presidential election. This column disclosed that Mustaffa was going to contest the Presidential election about two weeks ago.

Former CJ Sarath N Silva in limelight again
Former Chief Justice Sarath N.Silva who was once strongly tipped to be the common opposition candidate has become the subject of a main talking point in political circles again following his speech at the recent function held to mark the opening of a blog by SLFP (M) leader Mangala Samaraweera. Now a supporter of General Fonseka, Sarath N.Silva, according to informed opposition political sources, is to become the Prime Minister of the caretaker government which is to be formed in the event of the General being elected President.

Ranil retracts his assertion
Ranil Wickremesinghe had earlier told a Tamil national daily that he would be the Prime Minister of the caretaker government that would follow the election of General Fonseka as the President. Wickremesinghe had to go back on his statement and say that he would not accept the premiership of such a caretaker government following strong protests made by the JVP against his pretensions to the premiership. JVP’s trade union leader Lal Kantha recently announced that they would appoint another apolitical `Sarath’ as the Prime Minister of “our caretaker government.” He had obviously meant Sarath N.Silva when he referred to another Sarath. The former Chief Justice has entered the political arena following this disclosure.

Collecting evidence for an election petition
Sarath N. Silva has now begun giving legal advice to UNF and JVP leaders on gathering of material for an election petition against President Rajapaksa when he is elected President.
Meanwhile, an opposition group led by Mangala Samaraweera, now keeping a watchful eye on disgruntled Ministers, is planning to engineer their crossover to the opposition. Former President Chandrika Kumaratunga too had reportedly contacted some Ministers.

Will Navin Dissanayake return to the UNP fold?
Deputy Minister of Investment Promotion Navin Dissanayake, a member of the `Group 17’ that crossed over to the government from the UNP is reportedly another unhappy member in the government. He is disillusioned over the failure to delegate to him the powers of his office and preferential treatment given to SLFP supporters in matters like providing employment totally ignoring those recommended by him. The efforts being made to woo Navin Dissanayake back to the opposition has almost succeeded, reports say.

General Anuruddha Ratwatte vows to remain loyal to SLFP
Meanwhile, a rumour that was making rounds in Kandy area that SLFP’s Kandy district leader General Anuruddha Ratwatte was planning to appear on General Fonseka’s political platform saw many perturbed party supporters calling at his residence and telephoning him since last Friday.

Ratwatte was the chief organiser of the 1994 PA election campaign which brought the PA government led by former President Chandrika Kumaratunga to power. He also played a lead role in the 2000 UPFA election campaign. However, his role in the UPFA campaign at this Presidential election has been confined to the Kandy district. It is not advisable for the UPFA government to sideline an able campaigner who has proved his mettle like General Ratwatte.

General Ratwatte has assured the party supporters and well-wishers that he would never quit the SLFP. He pledged his support for President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s victory, adding that the SLFP should continue as a strong political party for the generations to come as well as his own children to play an active role in politics.