Govt bids to ward off pro-Fonseka protests
  • Samarasinghe carries the day
  • Vajira stands up for leader
  • Ranil-Somawansa draw fire
  • Felix recalls talks on Vijaya
  • SF writes to polls chief
The incarceration of former General Sarath Fonseka is gradually developing into a major crisis with more and more people joining the chorus of protestors.
General Cecil Waidyaratne was the only other Army Commander who was behind bars in Welikada throughout the history of the Sri Lanka Army spanning little over 60 years.
Waidyaratne was in the remand prison for a while after a judicial inquiry unlike Sarath Fonseka.
The profound support extended by the people to Fonseka has nothing to do with his political affiliations or his affinity with the opposition political forces but purely because he played a pivotal and an undisputable role in relieving the country from the clutches of terrorism, which held the country to ransom for nearly three decades.

Any citizen in Sri Lanka has the freedom to believe or perpetuate any political culture as they wish as long as they do not violate cardinal principles of democracy on which the social structure is built over the last 75 years or so since the day Sri Lanka was considered part of universal suffrage.
Former General Fonseka soon after his retirement as the Chief of Defence Staff a post that encompassed all three armed forces was propelled into political limelight by the joint opposition as the main contender against President Mahinda Rajapaksa at the January presidential election.

Although it gave Fonseka a great deal of political exposure as a novice pitted against a political giant, much-experienced Mahinda Rajapaksa, through his political acumen, emerged victorious.
There were questions raised about the inclement political climate under which the presidential election was held through a petition to the Supreme Court that is now being examined by a five-judge bench presided over by Chief Justice Asoka de Silva.

Fonseka was later arrested on numerous charges including treason to topple the government.
Along with Fonseka, so many top-ranking military officials were either sent on compulsory leave or detained for further questioning.
This included the defence writer of The Bottom Line newspaper, Ruwan Weerakoon.

Alleged offences

All of them, including the personal aide of Fonseka, Senaka de Silva were released later, since the Attorney-General told a Colombo magistrate court that they could not maintain charges against them any further for the alleged offences due to lack of evidence.
In the meantime, Fonseka who was tried by the first court martial appointed by the President found him guilty of indulging in politics while in service and recommended that he be stripped off his rank, which was ratified by the President.
Opposition Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe, however, took an exception to the order given by the court martial and argued that he does not fall into the category of officers who could be tried under the provisions of the Military Act.

The second court martial once again found him guilty of violating the set tender procedures while he acted as the chairman of the procurement committee of the Sri Lanka Army, and handed down a jail sentence that was once again affirmed by the President.
This resulted in incarcerating the former General for two and a half years with hard labour.
The incarceration is now having a snowball effect with people and the Maha Sangha realising that it was too harsh a punishment, meted out to the man who worked selflessly to eliminate terrorism.

The people in their hundreds displayed their disapproval on Monday, when they participated in religious ceremonies outside the superior court complex to invoke divine blessings on the incarcerated former General.
When Fonseka was brought to the superior court complex the same afternoon as an accused in the famous white flag case, his supporters and many lawyers obstructed the path of the Black Maria that brought him to the court.

There he vowed again to an agitated crowd that he would not give up his fight to restore democracy and good governance in the country, which the people were longing for years.
On Monday morning, amid all these political hullabaloo, UNP Deputy Leader Karu Jayasuriya visited Fonseka, who was confined to a solitary cell in Welikada.
Jayasuriya returned to Sri Lanka on Monday morning after a tour of London.
He made it a point to visit the joint opposition candidate to whom he canvassed in January no sooner he arrived in the country.
Chilaw district UNP Parliamentarian Range Bandara also joined Jayasuriya where they had a chat for nearly 15 minutes.

Fonseka told Jayasuriya that this was nothing but political vendetta and that it was patently clear, through the manner in which the government was behaving.
Jayasuriya later alerted the press corp to the fact that there is a possibility of poisoning the food given to Fonseka and said that three LTTE suspects who are known to be suicide carders are at large and that it poses a grave threat to the life of Fonseka.
Jayasuriya later joined a chorus of people who were performing religious ceremonies for the release of Fonseka in Hulftsdorp.

In court on Monday, a High Court trial-at-bar heard the evidence by Sunday Leader editor Fredrica Janz what Fonseka allegedly told her during an interview.
She said that according to Fonseka, Gota (Gotabhaya Rajapaksa) had allegedly ordered an army officer to shoot the LTTE cadres who were coming towards an army camp bearing white flags to surrender.
The interview had been conducted at the Reid Avenue political office of Fonseka somewhere in December last year when the presidential race was in top gear.
Outside court, people chanted slogans urging the government to release Fonseka. The opposition seems to be outraged over the present situation and is making every effort to secure the release of Fonseka.

Geneva talks
Jayalath Jayawardana and Akila Viraj Karuyawasam, the two UNP parliamentarians, were present before the Human Rights Committee of the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) in Geneva stating that the government contravening all accepted norms relating to human dignity has curtailed Sarath Fonseka’s freedom.
Minister Mahinda Samarasinghe, who was representing the government, apprised IPU Human Rights Committee on the present situation relating to Fonseka and said that the due judicial process had been adhered to as far as Fonseka’s matter is concerned.
It appeared that Mahinda Samarasinghe carried the day and pulled Sri Lanka out of a political quagmire unscathed.

The kind of propaganda carried out by the opposition in foreign lands had its chilling effects here, so much so President Rajapaksa addressing both opposition and government parliamentarians at a consultative committee meeting last Tuesday said that attacking him is one thing if he has committed any wrong but tarnishing our country’s image in foreign lands would not augur well for the country.
UNP Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe who was mindful of various strategies adopted by the government to get over Fonseka issue without much of a hassle, meanwhile, appealed to the President to remit the sentence imposed on Fonseka, in Parliament on Tuesday.

When Wickremesinghe made his plea on behalf of the opposition, the President was attending consultative committee meeting in his capacity as the Minister of Ports and Aviation.
Wickremesinghe, who read out the letter he dispatched to President Rajapaksa, told Parliament that it was his responsibility to make an appeal to the President as the Leader of the Opposition since Fonseka represents the opposition in Parliament.

He said Fonseka served the country with honour and distinction and defeated the LTTE on ground. “He not only faced the LTTE bravely but with fortitude and nearly sacrificed his life.” Wickremesinghe said he was decorated as a solider for the services rendered to the motherland and that it was the view of the opposition that he should not be serving a sentence of imprisonment.
He appealed to the President to exercise his presidential prerogative in terms of the constitution and or alternatively section 65 of the Army Act to remit the whole sentence.
Wickremesinghe also made a plea to restore Fonseka’s civil and military status.
Wickremesinghe’s request to the President on behalf of Fonseka is most apposite under the prevailing conditions where Fonseka or his party is not in a frame of mind to explore all possible avenues to secure his release.

In view of Wickremesinghe’s letter to the President, President Rajapaksa told the cabinet of ministers that he would not consider politically motivated pleas.
“It has to either come from him or his wife,” he added.
The President also told the cabinet that a pardon could only be possible if it originates from his family, his wife or two daughters.
The President at the same time said that this request should accompany with a pledge to withdraw all the cases he had filed in the Court of Appeal and the Supreme court challenging the validity of the general court martial appointed by him.

Simultaneously, he reminded that Vijaya Kumaratunga secured his release after he was incarcerated on a Naxalite charge after his wife made a plea to the then President.
It was Minister Felix Perera, who was a close associate of Vijaya Kumaratunga, who brought it to the notice of the President. The President at the same time would be writing to the leader of the opposition asking him as to whether the request for the pardon by the opposition leader had any kind of consent from Fonseka.

Ministers criticised
Having said all that about Fonseka, the President pinned the blame on some of the ministers for having surreptitious connections with Fonseka during the presidential election and said that if he did take action half the cabinet would not have been there.
He said that some very close relatives of a minister worked against him breaking ‘coconuts’ at a place of worship.
The President directed all the salvos he fired at the SLFP members in the cabinet whom he thought were unfair by him.
The next day he met the heads of the state media institutions and blamed them for being dormant on the Fonseka issue

However, what is clear now is, despite pressure from various quarters the Fonseka family is determined not to make any appeal or plea to the government seeking the release since they believe that the incarceration of Fonseka was without any legal basis and only on vengeance.
It was on the other day that Wimal Weerawansa sort of a trouble-shooter for the present regime appeared on national TV to urge Mrs Fonseka to seek a pardon from the President.
He told Mrs Fonseka to be practical and make a plea on behalf of Fonseka without addressing press conferences.

Several other ministers too joined the Weerawansa bandwagon to justify the government’s stand on Fonseka.
Among them were Ministers S B Dissanayake, Susil Premajayantha, Dullas Allahapperuma and Dilan Perera.
Deputy Minister Perera said that there is no appeal available as a redress to Fonseka against the order of the court martial and said that the sole authority who could pardon him was the President.

What Minister Perera failed to mention was that the court martial order could be challenge by way of a writ of mandamus in the Court of Appeal, since the military tribunal is ‘administrative’ in its nature. Minister S B Dissanayake apportioned the blame on Ranil Wickremesinghe and JVP Leader Somawansa Amerasinghe for having dragged Fonseka into politics.
Dissanayake accentuated that Wickremesinghe owes a public apology to Fonseka for the foregoing but instead he was making a plea to the President to release him.

Over the weekend, President Rajapaksa in Polonnaruwa told Buddhist clergy that he was ready to consider a pardon, if Fonseka is ready to make a plea in terms of the constitution.
The President also explained to the Buddhist clergy the difficulty he faced in overturning the ruling of the court martial, which he appointed under the Military Act.

On the contrary, UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe says that the President could act under section 65 of the Army Act to remit the whole sentence or otherwise without depending on plea on behalf of Fonseka. Wickremesinghe who was busy lobbying for Fonseka’s release visited him in Welikada and wanted the authorities to look into the facilities provided for Fonseka.

He also took part in a Bodhi Pooja in Dompe organised by UNP Provincial Councillor Harshana Rajakaruna and was told by the Buddhist monks there not to make political speeches at the temple premises but Wickremesinghe spoke urging the government to release Fonseka since the laws under which he was tried were not applicable to him.
If by any quirk of fate the first court martial was applicable, Wickremesinghe emphasised that the second court martial could not be applicable at all since his military status had been removed by virtue of the first court martial.

Nevertheless, some believe that Anoma Fonseka should enter parliament to carry forward the struggle to release Fonseka since there are no signs of government yielding to pressure exerted by the Buddhist prelates and the Catholic Bishops Conference.
However, there are obstacles in doing so, since the whole list after Fonseka should resign to pave the way for Anoma Fonseka.
The Democratic National Alliance (DNA), the party that Fonseka represents in parliament had examined this possibility, but was apprehensive since one person down the line had already shifted his allegiance to the government.

Legal ambiguity
In the circumstances getting the list of members, representing Colombo District to resign is out of the question one senior member of the DNA told this column the only alternative being the national list.
However, there is an ambiguity in the law relating to the court martial as to the implications of imprisonment under the Army Act.
The government and the opposition were seeking legal opinion to ascertain the impact of the sentence and whether Fonseka’s seat had actually fallen vacant on account of the sentence meted out by the military tribunal.

On Wednesday, when the defence counsel pointed out to the High Court-at-bar that Fonseka was an MP and moved for the postponement of the ‘white flag’ case to facilitate him to attend Parliamentary proceedings the court allowed the application.
However, by Thursday afternoon, the acting parliamentary secretary-general informed the commissioner of elections to appoint another member in place of Fonseka whose seat had fallen vacant due to imprisonment.
The commissioner, acting on this premise, nominated Lakshman Nipunaarachchi as the new member and made all arrangements to publish a gazette notification giving legal effect to the nomination, a copy of which was received by the office of the secretary-general of parliament.

By this time, the election commissioner received yet another letter addressed to him by Paul Ratnayake Associates, the lawyers of Sarath Fonseka, stating that a decision of a general court martial did not have the same legal effect similar to that of a court of law functioning under the normal law of the country.
“The general court martial was not court as envisaged by the constitution and therefore it was not an order that deprived him of his parliamentary seat.”
It also stated that Sarath Fonseka would challenge the decision of the general court martial in the Court of Appeal in terms of Section 79 of the Army Act read with relevant provisions of the Constitution.
The letter certainly served as a legal impediment to the elections commissioner who acted on the earlier communication of the acting secretary-general to parliament.

The controversy over Sarath Fonseka sparked off when DNA member Vijitha Herath raised the issue when parliament met on Thursday inquiring as to why Fonseka was absent when the High Court put off his case enabling him to attend Parliament.
Opposition Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe took over from there and raised the issue when Speaker Chamal Rajapaksa presided over the sittings.

Later, the Speaker agreed to discuss the matter with the party leaders to examine the pros and cons of the issue in question.
However, it appears now the Speaker would take his decision depending on the legal advice given by the Attorney-General, but Wickremesinghe told parliament that the Speaker is not bound by the ruling of the AG and that he could take his decision independently after having inquired in to the material facts of the matter in question.

Earlier in the day, Sarath Fonseka met the Commissioner-General of the Prisons V R de Silva to ask him to provide with basic facilities afforded to a prisoner.
He asked for a wooden plank so that he could have a better sleep once the coir mattress is placed on it and a fan and a TV.
He said that all the other prisoners were provided with such facilities and asked whether he could be transferred to ward ‘M’ where the other armed forces men were held with basic facilities.
V R de Silva, who listened to the request attentively, said he would inform the ministry of the request.
The government, according to political analysts, is heading for difficult times over the Fonseka issue.

Sangha appeal
There is an undercurrent of resentment brewing within the Sangha community especially after the pronouncement made by Venerable Maduluwave Sobitha Thera, who volunteered to serve a sentence of life imprisonment along with 100 other monks in exchange to liberty for Sarath Fonseka.
In their view, Fonseka had rendered a yeoman service to the country as the Commander of the Sri Lanka Army and therefore he deserves to lead a free life without any encumbrances.
Venerable Sobitha’s strong sentiments have gone far; that the people and the Sangha society has taken notice of the fact that Sarath Fonseka deserves freedom.

It would be difficult for any government in power if the widespread public apathy towards the unfolding events translate in to emotions in the near future owing to mishandling of affairs under their purview.
On Thursday, Venerable Sobitha on his way to Sri Dalada Maligawa in Kandy to attend an ‘adhishtana pooja’ aimed at securing the release of Fonseka met with an accident mid way.
His vehicle was rammed by another vehicle causing damages but the monk after a lodging a police complaint continued his journey in another vehicle.

As Sarath Fonseka missed all his chances to lead a comfortable life by taking to politics, the government too missed a great opportunity of perpetuating their vision among the people by incarcerating Fonseka.
If the government were mindful enough and tactful in its pursuit for politics would have, pardoned Fonseka explaining the circumstances under which he was arrested and convicted by the general court martial.
Such a move would have pushed the government and its leaders to a higher pedestal and seen an end to Fonseka’s carrier as a politician, since following a pardon Fonseka would have been in a difficult position to position him as a politician with great aptitude.

Political wisdom is important to handle intricate problems of this nature and a bold political step to free Fonseka would have helped the government and its leader to boost their political image and win accolades from the common masses.
On the other hand, Fonseka would have been on a difficult wicket to campaign against the government who by then would have left an indelible mark in the hearts and minds of the people as great and more humane visionaries the country has ever produced.

Fonseka as a free man would be compelled to launch a massive political campaign espousing his cause first to gain supremacy in the opposition ranks rather than fighting the government.
This would be impossible for him with the UNP enjoying a majority share in the opposition.
In 1977, when J R Jayewardene emerged victorious one of his far-reaching political acts was to scrap the Criminal Justice Commission appointed by the then Sirima Bandaranaike government to try the JVP suspects following the 1971 insurrection and granting freedom to Rohana Wijeweera and the rest of the members of the JVP who were incarcerated under the CJC law.

JRJ went one step further and banned the enactment of retrospective legislation under the1978 Constitution.
It took at least 10 years for the JVP to regroup properly and pose a threat to the government as an armed group.

The prevailing political situation at that stage was largely responsible for the armed insurrection unleashed by the JVP that was crushed ruthlessly by President Ranasinghe Premadasa and his Deputy Defence Minster Ranjan Wijeratne.
Hence, it is time to take a leaf from the past or the predecessors and act diligently while enhancing the image politically.

Talking about opposition politics it would be difficult to fathom which way the wind is blowing.
The main opposition UNP lacks cohesiveness to address the problems that affects the people most. UNP Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe appeared to have consolidated his position for the time being but discontent among the party youngsters are simmering down the corridors of ‘Sirikotha’ the party headquarters.
The major problem faced by them today is their inability to mobilise their membership at village level. Party leader Ranil Wickremesinghe, addressing a seminar organised for the Provincial Councillors in the parliamentary complex, elaborated on the matter and emphasised the need to a build the village based UNP organisation as in the past.

Focus on villages
He told the members that they should not depend on the media to carry their message to the village but should be present physically in the villages to educate the masses on the present political trends and build a mass movement to bring the party back to the threshold of victory.
Provincial Council member Maithri Gunaratne, who made a big din at the UNP’s Akmeemana organisation meeting over the presence of party leader Ranil Wickremesinghe there, was also present at the meeting and was present for the lunch hosted by the party leader for the Provincial Councillors at the guest canteen of the Parliamentary complex.

In the meantime, the crisis in the UNP over the delay to introduce reforms have now taken a different twist when UNP heavy weight of Galle, Vajira Abeywardene said that, if the UNP to resurrect itself from the present political quagmire it should shelve the word “reforms”.
He says that there are enough and more provisions in the present UNP constitution to change the leadership at the behest of the membership of the party and that the party constitution should not be changed according to whims and fancies of a few.

“The party constitution should be strong in correspondence to the constitution of the country,” he says.
Abeywardene was apparently throwing his weight behind the party leader Ranil Wickremesinghe who is probably trying to get over the present impasse in the party.
Most of the party men feel that Vajira Abeywardene, who acts as an apologist for Wickremesinghe, has more intentions than serving the party.

They feel that the objective behind Abeywardene’s latest innovations is to secure a slot in the national list at some point and later to make a beeline to the government benches.
Abeywardene is known as Cambridge Terrace by day and Temple Trees by night.
Whatever it may be Wickremesinghe now has a disciple who has the strength to stand against proposed party reforms and to try and change the attitude of the party men, at his disposal at least for the time being.
In spite of this, the reformists and the moderates in the UNP believe that “reforms” are essential for the party to gather political momentum especially in the rural hinterlands of the country.

They are of the firm belief that Abeywardene in particular is in the process of accomplishing a contract given by the government to keep the party crisis dragging so that it would be of political advantage for the government.

The order: Chase voters and stuff ballot boxes

Who burned the Jaffna Public Library is well known and widely recorded.
None of the culprits had been identified and brought to justice is also accepted.
The sentiments of the Tamil people was deeply bruised by the burning is also acknowledged.

The Sinhala nationalist Jathika Hela Urumaya too has acknowledged that the burning was an atrocious folly.
Its general secretary and Power and Energy Minister Patali Champika Ranawaka, who donated two million rupees worth of books to the Jaffna Public Library on behalf of his party last June 21 apologised to the Jaffna citizens for that senseless act.
He said: “It is unfortunate that the attack came from identified UNP elements belonging to our community. The attack was launched by a handful of people and the Sinhala community as a whole did not condone it. Many openly condemned it.”

It is also known the entire Jaffna populace was awake that gloomy May 31 night, watching helplessly the dark smoke that spiraled up and hung low, covering the starry blue sky.
They stared helplessly because the few who ventured out to dowse the fire were chased back by the police.
Some eyes were tearful. Some eyes were closed, unable to bear the sight.
It is not widely known that one youth who watched the leaping flame with his bulging eyes muttered, ‘Kalasara Pererippu,’ which means ‘cultural incineration’. He vowed revenge.

That youth was Pirapaharan, then 26. He was in a hideout in the Jaffna town.
The police had intensified their search for him following the Neerveli bank robbery and the arrests of Thangathurai and Kuttumani, leaders of Tamil Eelam Liberation Organisation (TELO) and the holding of the Jaffna District Development Council (DDC) election.
More than 30 youths suspected as militants were detained.
It must be accepted that the burning of the Jaffna Public Library was not a pre-planned operation.
The police party that was involved in the burning was sent to provide security for the holding of the DDC election scheduled for June 6, 1981.

It was sent following the murder of S Thiyagarajah, former principal of Karainagar Hindu College and former MP for Vaddukoddai, who headed the UNP list of candidates.
He was shot dead by PLOTE (Peoples Liberation Organisation of Tamil Eelam) gunmen.
Uma Maheswaran, who formed the PLOTE a few months earlier, decided to disrupt the election and thus attract the attention of the people.
The police party of over 500 men was housed at the Alfred Duraiappa Stadium situated close to the Jaffna library.

President J R Jayewardene’s decision to hold the DDC election in Jaffna and to get the UNP to contest it was the cause of the situation that led to the burning of the library.
By holding the election, Jayewardene wanted to show the world that he had defeated the Tamil militants and had restored democracy in the Jaffna peninsula. By getting the UNP to contest, he wanted to demonstrate that he enjoyed some following in that troubled district.

He sent two of his trusted ministers - Industries Minister Cyril Mathew and Mahaweli Development Minister Gamini Dissanayake - to Jaffna with the instruction, “We must win at least one or two seats”. Mathew went earlier to organise the polls. He went early with bus loads of his strongmen. He instructed Jaffna Government Agent Yogendra Duraisway that he would bring Sinhala officers to man the polling stations.
Mathew took a group of Sinhala government servants to man the polling stations.
W M Srimanne from Kurunegalle was one of them. Srimanne gave evidence before the Lesson Learnt and Reconciliation Commission on September 29. He told the commission that he had served as an officer in the Jaffna Municipal Council and was treated well. He had been a regular user of the facilities provided by the Jaffna Public Library.

He said his group was taken to Jaffna by train on May 30 and was housed at the Jaffna Central College building. He also told the commission that they were told: “Chase away the voters from about 10am and stuff the ballot boxes with ballot papers marked for the UNP.”
Srimanne said he saw the Jaffna library burning.
“I witnessed the best library in South Asia burning,” he said and added, “I saw people beating their chests and shouting ‘We are losing our treasure’”

The burning of the library was a retaliatory action for the killing of two policemen and the wounding of two others at the Nachimar Kovilady public meeting of the Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF). The crowd was huge. Four policemen detailed to provide security were seated in two benches at the rear.
A group of PLOTE gunmen appeared from behind and fired at them.
Sergeant Punchi Banda and constable Kanhagasuntharam died and constables Usman and Kulasinghe were wounded.

Half an hour later, Jaffna police rushed a posse of policemen to the site of the incident.
They burnt the temple, adjoining houses and two cars.
Then they stopped the last bus returning from KKS, forced the passengers out and drove in it to the Jaffna bazaar.

They burnt the row of shops on Hospital Street.
Then they drove to Jaffna MP Vettivel Yogeswaran’s home, a kilometre away, set fire to his jeep, his friend’s car and to his house.
Yogeswaran and his wife scaled the rear wall and took refuge in a neighbouring house.
The policemen proceeded to the TULF head office at Main Street and set fire to it.
The police orgy of violence continued the whole of that melancholy night Jaffna’s pride, the priceless library was burnt down.

Srimanna concluded his evidence with the comment, “The people who were sent to rig the election returned after earning international disgrace.”
Rigging did take place and six of the ballot boxes taken out to stuff votes were never returned.
The burning of the library ensured TULF victory in all the seats.