By Dean Nelson –
General Sarath Fonseka, the former Sri Lankan army chief jailed for running as an opposition candidate, has declared he will lead an Arab Spring-style uprising to force the government from office.
Outlining his return to active politics after he was released from jail in May following pressure from the United States, Gen Fonseka sought to scotch speculation he had struck a deal with the government to keep a low political profile.
Instead he launched a bitter attack on President Rajapaksa, whom he accused of persecuting his family and terrorising opponents, and pledged a new campaign to topple his government. “I’m definitely asking people to rise up,” and “overthrow the government by democratic methods,” he said.
Speaking to The Daily Telegraph he denounced his former commander-in-chief as a “dictator” and called on the international community to “de-recognise” the government.
General Fonseka criticised British prime minister David Cameron for meeting President Rajapaksa at a Jubilee lunch in London last month and said the international community must instead isolate his government to stop its abuses.
“[They should] derecognise the government and give protection to the people…if there is a dictator violating human rights and the democracy of the people, I think the world will have to take care of that.
He cited a series of abuses by pro-government politicians including rapes and murders of opponents and pointed to an incident in February when police opened fire on a crowd of 5000 fishermen, including women and children, protesting against rising fuel prices. One fisherman was killed and three were wounded.
Two teenage girls were recently gang-raped by suspected pro-government figures while two members of the JVP which supported his presidential campaign were shot dead by motorcycle gunmen last month.
“You have seen how it took place in other countries and how those people were rescued from tyrannical regimes. I hope and pray it will not be like Libya,” he said.
Despite his family’s “sacrifices”, he said he was happy to be the figurehead of opposition.
“It’s a sacrifice I’m making in order to get freedom and democratic rights for the people of this country .They are sacrifices, but otherwise who will stand against the mal-practices of this government and those who control this country?” he said.
Despite being banned from standing for election for the next seven years, General Fonseka remains a popular hero in Sri Lanka for leading its armed forces to victory in its 27 year civil war with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in 2009. He was hailed by large crowds at rallies throughout the country but his popularity led to a rift with President Rajapaksa and his brother, the defence secretary Gotabaya.
Gen Fonseka said although the victory was not his alone, “I commanded the army to victory, I planned the operations and commanded the troops…I definitely feel proud,” he said.
He eventually resigned later that year and challenged Mahinda Rajapaksa in the 2010 presidential election. He was defeated in what he denounced as a rigged ballot and was later jailed for three years on corruption charges and stripped of his rank, medals and pension.
He spent the next two years in jail where he was held in solitary confinement “24 hours a day” and denied contact with other prisoners, he said. His son-in-law disappeared amid rumours that the government was seeking his arrest and has now been missing for two and a half years, while his wife was unable to rent or buy a home because government officials threatened potential sellers and landlords. “Now the intelligence bureau follow me wherever I go, even to weddings,” he said.
He dismissed allegations that Sri Lankan troops committed war crimes but criticised the government for failing to answer them fully. He was ready to face any accusations and denied his army had targeted civilians sheltering in a no-fire zone in the last stages of the war – estimates of civilians deaths range from 9,000 to 40,000.