|Sarath Fonseka’s Second War|
The presidential pardon to General Sarath Fonseka (officially it is ‘ex-General’ as he has been stripped of his hard earned rank) after he completed only two years of a three-year jail sentence should come as no surprise.
As things happen in the Island nation, the idea touched off speculations on when and how he will be released. Of course, there was a lot of build up before it really happened with the perennial political go-between Tiran Alles MP took up the General’s case for pardon with his one time pal - the President. And the former Army Chief comes up once again in national focus with the speculation on what is he going to do?
President Mahinda Rajapaksa chose to show his benevolence to the General around the third anniversary of victory over the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) and bestowed his pardon. In a sense it was as the hapless General had gained national accolade for leading the Sri Lankan forces to victory in the Eelam War IV. But he committed the mother of all sins no military man should commit and escape reprisals – crossing swords with politicians – that too President Mahinda Rajapaksa, who brooks no opposition. The hounding of the General after he chose to contest against the President, who wanted to cash in his moment of victory by winning a second term in office, will remain a black chapter in the country’s presidential history.
The Green Card-holding General’s release had been one of the minor items in the long list of demands the U.S. had been thrusting on Sri Lanka ever since their relations went South in the last stages of the Eelam War. It started as an irritant with Rajapaksa government’s studied disregard human rights concerns of the U.S. and the West on the happenings in Sri Lanka.
However, the breaking point came when Sri Lanka trashed the U.S. plan to dramatically intervene in the last stages of war (with all the Hollywood dramatics of Marines landing in the battle zone to rescue a Prabhakaran and his pals in distress). It made the U.S. agenda suspect in Sri Lankan eyes, and the U.S. demand for release of Fonseka added to the suspicion as allegations of Sri Lanka war crimes were piling up in international forums.
So the release of the former Army Chief probably added a dime’s worth to the reputation of Prof GL Peiris, External Affairs Minister, who on a mission impossible trip to the U.S on "how to make friends with the U.S." The news of the General’s pardon gathered timely momentum around the weekend Prof Peiris was meeting with the U.S. Secretary of State Mrs Hilary Clinton. During the meeting he made a lot of promises on Sri Lanka’s game plan (as usual verbally) to the Secretary of State who had insisted on his plans to meet the requirements of UNHRC resolution.
President Rajapaksa’s pardon also satisfies the President’s right wing Sinhala admirers (he has aplenty it seems) and coalition partner Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU), the monks party, as they had been clamouring for Fonseka’s rehabilitation in the pantheon of Sinhala war heroes.
But the General’s release is not without its strings (or stings?). According to Attorney General Eva Wanasundara the former Army Commander has been granted a conditional release as he has received a remission of his three-year sentence. He cannot contest an election for seven years, although she clarified in an interview that he had the right to vote in elections. She also reminded that the General has one more case pending against him in the court for harbouring army deserters.