Sri Lanka's former army chief and defeated presidential candidate Sarath Fonseka is to be court-martialled, officials said today, a day after he was hauled from his office by armed troops. Hours before his dramatic arrest, Mr Fonseka told reporters he would face any international probe into alleged war crimes committed by Sri Lankan troops last year in the final stages of the conflict with Tamil Tiger rebels.
In a brief statement on its website, the defence ministry said Mr Fonseka would be charged with "certain fraudulent acts and other military offences". Mr Fonseka has been moved to an undisclosed military establishment ahead of disciplinary proceedings, a military official said. "He will face a court martial even though he is not a serving officer," said the official, who declined to be named. Mr Fonseka, 59, the only four-star general in the army, quit in November after falling out with his commander-in-chief, president Mahinda Rajapakse, whom he later challenged in last month's presidential election.
Shortly after the January 26 poll, which Mr Rajapakse won comfortably, the government accused Mr Fonseka of plotting a coup to overthrow the president and assassinate his family members. And earlier this month, Mr Rajapakse sacked a dozen senior military officers described by the defence ministry as a threat to national security. The government is also concerned about Mr Fonseka's apparent willingness to testify before any war crimes probe relating to the defeat of the Tamil Tigers.
"I am not prepared to protect anyone, if they have committed war crimes," Mr Fonseka said just before his arrest. The government has resisted international calls for an investigation amid charges that a senior defence official ordered the killing of surrendering rebel leaders. The United Nations says 7,000 civilians died during the final stages of fighting. In November, Mr Fonseka, who holds a US "green card", cut short a visit to the United States to avoid questioning by the authorities there on the war crimes issue.
Mr Fonseka had initially agreed to be questioned, but was pressured to leave by the Sri Lankan government which feared he would be asked to provide evidence against defence secretary Gotabhaya Rajapakse, the president's brother. Mr Fonseka's arrest caps a dramatic fall from grace for a man who, eight months ago, was regarded by many as a national hero. * AFP