Sri Lanka former army chief Fonseka expects to be jailed

Man who led troops to victory in war against Tamil Tigers says government is seeking revenge for his decision to stand against the president in January's elections.

Sri Lanka's former army chief, Sarath Fonseka, said today he expects the government to put him behind bars to end his political career after a court martial convicted him. Mr Fonseka, who led troops to victory in the island's 37-year ethnic conflict last year, said the government was seeking revenge for his decision to stand against the president at January polls. He was arrested two weeks after President Mahinda Rajapakse won re-election and he faces a plethora of charges ranging from corruption to treason.

The first court martial, which heard charges that he dabbled in politics while heading the military, found him guilty last Friday and ordered the withdrawal of medals he had earned during his 40-year military career. Mr Fonseka, a former four-star general, quit the military in November to become an opposition politician. "They are going to put me in jail and I am prepared for that," Mr Fonseka told reporters in parliament after being escorted by the military to attend assembly sessions.

He said he had no faith in the judiciary. However, he would appeal to a civilian court against the ruling of the first court martial, which he said had been illegally constituted. The second military tribunal, which is hearing charges that he engaged in corrupt military deals, is expected to hold its next hearing on Saturday. Mr Fonseka said: "The verdict is already written," I know the psychology and the thinking of these people [in power]. There is no rule of law. If you are not a government supporter, you can't expect justice."

Friday's ruling carried no prison term, but Mr Fonseka remains in custody. He also faces civilian charges of employing army deserters, as well as revealing state secrets, offences that carry a sentence of up to 20 yeas in jaip. Mr Fonseka has angered the government by saying he would willingly testify before any international war crimes tribunal. Mr Rajapakse has promised to prevent any such probe. The United Nations estimates that at least 7,000 Tamil civilians were killed in the final months of fighting between government troops and Tamil Tiger rebels.

* AFP