Sri Lankan opposition leader arrested for sedition

  • Mon Feb 8th, 2010 10:24am
  • News

Associated Press

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka — Sri Lanka’s defeated presidential candidate was hauled away by military police from his office today and will be court-martialed for allegedly planning to overthrow the government while serving as the head of the army.

Sarath Fonseka, who as the top general helped defeat the Tamil Tiger rebels, was forcibly detained after objecting to his arrest, opposition politician Rauff Hakeem told The Associated Press.

Fonseka and President Mahinda Rajapaksa were once strong allies who combined to defeat the Tigers, ending the country’s 25-year civil war last May. But they later fell out and Fonseka quit his post. They contested a bitter election last month for the presidency, won by the incumbent, Rajapaksa.

Officials have accused Fonseka of plotting to kill Rajapaksa and overthrow the government with the help of army deserters and former military officers. Fonseka has called the allegations fabricated and vowed to push on with his political career.

Mano Ganeshan, an opposition lawmaker, said Fonseka was “arrested and forcibly carried away” while having a discussion with a group of political allies.

Hakeem said Fonseka objected to being arrested by military police instead of civilian officers, since he was no longer in the military.

The military police dragged Fonseka and his secretary by the hands and legs into their vehicles, Hakeem said.

“He was humiliated and disgraced in the way he was handled. We were just flabbergasted,” he said.

Government minister Keheliya Rambukwella said Fonseka will be tried in a military court on charges of conspiring against the president and planning a coup.

“When he was the army commander and chief of defense staff and member of the security council, he had direct contact with opposition political parties, which under the military law can amount to conspiracy,” Rambukwella said.

“He’s been plotting against the president while in the military … with the idea of overthrowing the government,” he added.

Since the Jan. 26 election, Fonseka has complained that the government was attempting to arrest him on trumped up charges. Last week, security forces raided his office and arrested at least 15 of his staff.

Fonseka has vowed to contest parliamentary elections due by April, and the unofficial campaign season is well under way.

The opposition has rejected the results of the presidential election, accusing the government of stealing more than 1 million of Fonseka’s votes during the tallying process, and said it will challenge them in court.

It has also accused the government of a campaign of threats, intimidation and illegal imprisonment of its supporters and activists.

The government said the opposition had been planning to organize a coup with the help of former army officers loyal to Fonseka. A number of serving officers, which it said were considered to be a threat to national security, were fired.