Declaring his candidacy at the forthcoming presidential election, former Army Chief General Sarath Fonseka yesterday said that his differences over the conduct of war against the LTTE with the likes of UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe, MP and Mangala Samaraweera, MP would not be allowed to hinder a campaign to bring down the 'dictatorial' Rajapaksa regime.
Addressing the media at the JAIC Hotel on Sunday, he revealed that the JVP was the first political party to extend an invitation to him to enter active politics. He said the UNP and other Opposition political parties had discussed the issue among themselves before contacting him. Urging the media to be patient until the Opposition revealed the name of his party, the tough-talking Fonseka said that his symbol would be ‘swan’ which he said was a very clever being.
Asked whether he could work with Samaraweera, who had called him a racist, and the architect of the ceasefire Wickremesinghe, Fonseka said Samaraweera had declared that he was not even fit to lead the Salvation Army. He said that there had been differences with them but there was absolutely no point in harping on them now. Emphasising the importance of adopting a common approach by the Opposition for a regime change, he said that they were friends now.
Responding to criticism of collusion between him and one-time supporters of the LTTE, Fonseka appealed to the remnant LTTE cadres to join his campaign to restore democracy in the country. He said that even LTTE leader Velupillai Prabhakaran's parents were welcome to back him. He said there were neither permanent friends nor permanent enemies and he was determined to receive the support of all parties to defeat the government. Welcoming financial assistance to his cause, he said he could not conduct an election campaign on a meagre pension of Rs. 50,000.
Speaking of devolution, Fonseka said a solution migh have to go even beyond the 13th Amendment to the Constitution to suit the present situation. He asserted that the controversial Amendment, introduced over 20 years ago, would not be enough now. He said the issue was being discussed among the political parties in the newly-formed alliance.
While accusing the UPFA of resorting to 'underhand' methods to undermine his campaign, Fonseka called President Rajapaksa a 'tinpot dictator'. The President was also accused of nepotism and the Rajapaksas of seeking personal benefit from the military triumph over the LTTE.
Recalling his being jeered at the Kelani Raja Maha Viharaya on the day he quit the post of the Chief of Defence Staff (CDS), Fonseka said he would put thugs out of business. "I was jeered despite over 50 armed soldiers being around me. It is not too hard to imagine what these ruffians can do to ordinary people," he said.
He expressed confidence that the underworld could be dealt with under the normal laws of the country and vowed to deal with waste, corruption and irregularities.
Asked whether he would, in the event of his victory. accept a UN call for a war crimes probe on the UPFA leadership including President Rajapaksa, Fonseka said he had been part of that team. He emphasised that investigations could be conducted, provided that the international community would produce clear evidence including times and places of violations alleged to have taken place during the war. He said his army was disciplined and he would not try to cover up any wrongdoings on the part of the armed forces.
Fonseka called for what he termed as reliable information so that doubts, if any, harboured by the international community, could be dispelled.
He said that an attempt was being made to blame him for the killing of The Sunday Leader Editor Lasantha Wickrematunga and several other attacks in the city and its suburbs. He denied any knowledge of illegal covert operations. He said any attempt to blame him for such crimes would amount to insulting the army which he said was professional and disciplined.
Fonseka said he valued India's friendship. Recalling his first visit to India as a Second Lieutenant 40 years ago, he said that he respected the powerful neighbou went on to mention procurement of arms, ammunition and equipment from China and Pakistan, during the war against the LTTE.
Launching his political career, Fonseka said that that was not a decision taken to live a life of comforts. He said he had decided to quit the army after serving it for 40 years and the newly created post of the CDS had not allowed him to serve the nation though money was spent on the new set up. He complained that the CDS was denied the operational responsibility with regard to armed forces and administrative authority and he had not wanted to waste time without doing anything worthwhile. Fonseka said that as the CDS he had had a 600-man security contingent and 25 vehicles though the government drastically reduced it once he quit the post, regardless of threats to his life.
Fonseka said he had decided to take to politics as he could no longer turn a blind eye to "waste, corruption and rapid deterioration of society". Vowing to defeat the President he said he always achieved his goals. He said that both promises given by him during the war had been honoured. "I promised to finish off the Tigers during my tenure and to prevent Prabhakaran from delivering his much talked about Heroes Day speech in November 2009," he said adding that he had carried out those promises.
He said the lion’s share of the credit for defeating the LTTE should go to the armed forces. The public as well as the media, too, should be commended for their roles, he said adding that doubling of the army's strength was one of the most important factors in their triumph over the LTTE. He accused the President of seeking to glorify himself with the help of a magnificent war victory which, he said, had been achieved through immense sacrifices. He also recalled the LTTE's attempt to assassinate him before the eruption of heavy ground battles.
Fonseka claimed that President Rajapaksa's predecessors, too, had tried to defeat terrorism though they never succeeded due to the failure on the part of the armed forces. Had the military succeeded, the ground situation would have been different years ago, he said asserting that he would still have been the Commander of the Army, if the LTTE had not been defeated.
He said the war had not been waged against any particular community but the LTTE and no one should try to interpret the war against terrorism to suit their agendas. He said he had no personal agenda but a genuine desire to defeat corrupt UPFA government and help restore a parliamentary democracy.
Fonseka launched a scathing attack on the Rajapaksa administration for failing to look after the war displaced. He blamed the President for failing to take advantage of the military victory over the LTTE, thereby causing an unfortunate situation. He said IDPs were being resettled even in some areas infested with mines.
Fonseka said the garbage had to be removed but in that process he had to sully his hands. That could not be helped, he said blaming the government for using both serving and retired officers to tarnish his image. He said that all of a sudden the government and some officers had found fault with him, now that he had quit the service and entered politics. Fonseka said he had been commended by those who now ran him down. He said he had received accolades from his critics for the war victory and he had documentary proof, which he promised to produce in due course.
He promised to abolish executive presidency and also implement the 17th Amendment to the Constitution and then help the Opposition alliance to secure a two-thirds majority in Parliament. He said some of the government ministers and MPs had pledged their solidarity with him, though they did not want to go public.
However, he avoided any reference to a caretaker government with UNP Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe as PM presuambly because that condition put forth by the UNPhad disturbed the JVP.
Asked to explain his stand on liquor, Fonseka said it was both good and bad and in a lighter vein added it served some purpose at social gatherings and helped the brain function better. He laughingly said he did not want to lose votes by undertaking to ban liquor. However, he vowed to eliminated the evil of narcotics and crime.
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