By Granville Perera –
A war winning decorated military hero, who was court marshaled, stripped of his medals and humiliated by the Rajapaksa brothers regained his honour with the election of Maithripala Sirisena to the Executive Office. He was acquitted of all charges, his medals returned, pension and other retirement benefits restored. He was later promoted to the rank of Field Marshall, the first military officer to rise to this rank in Sri Lankan military history. Yesterday, he along with his wife Anoma (who was reappointed by President Sirisena as the Chairperson of the Ranaviru Seva Authority) participated in the military celebrations opposite the parliament in Battaramulla commemorating the military victory against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). During the Rajapaksa regime, Sarath Fonseka was denied even the opportunity to participate in the grandiose victory celebrations that was the hallmark of the Rajapaksa administration.
While he along with the commanders of the other forces should have been given the credit of defeating terrorism, Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Mahinda Rajapaksa have continued to deny it and claim credit for themselves to the extent that all records of Filed Marshall Sarath Fonseka had been erased from the war history. Gotabaya had selected and worked with field commanders like Shavindra Silva, Jagath Dias, Kamal Gunaratne etc. who probably reported to the political/ administrative leadership directly and not to the commander of the army. The international community and the Tamil Diaspora accused all of them including Field Marshall Sarath Fonseka of committing war crimes and excesses during the war.
The current government of Maithripala Sirisena has gone out of the way to appease and promote Sarath Fonseka to the coveted rank of Field Marshal. This may have been done in gratitude for his role in ensuring the regime change in January 2015. Did he reign in the military and ensured their neutrality or did he play an even bigger role by preventing a coup? The government has even gone to the extent of renaming a road in his honour, while he is still alive, a trend that was created by none other than Mahinda Rajapaksa and followed by many of the contemporary politicians.
While there should be recognition for the soldiers who scarified their lives to rid the country of the scourge of terrorism, it is important that all the war dead is recognized. This should include the large number of Tamils (fighters and civilians) who were killed in the three-decade conflict; after all they are citizens of Sri Lanka.
In lieu of President Maithripala Sirisena’s solemn promise to the international community of a credible internal inquiry of military excesses, the country needs to deals with any rogue military personnel who may have violated the basic rules of war and may be liable for punishment for war crimes. This would include commanders including Field Marshall Sarath Fonseka who has been accused of committing war crimes. It is only a credible Sri Lankan investigation and punishment to the violators of law that could keep the vultures from the Diaspora and international community away from destroying the hard fought stability that prevails today in Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka’s civil society too has conveniently forgotten that Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka as the commander of the army should also be held responsible for the military excesses if any, during the final stages of the war.
Why is the international community, the Tamil Diaspora and the Sri Lankan Civil Society who screamed at Gotabaya as a mass murderer silent on the rebirth of Sarath Fonseka in uniform, He should have taken orders only from the commander in chief, Mahinda Rajapaksa and if he took orders from any other Rajapaksa, other than Mahinda Rajapaksa, he too should be held responsible for the large number of civilian deaths through the use of heavy armory and shelling of civilians who were held as human shields by the LTTE. Ample evidence of civilian causalities is provided by the award-winning Channel 4 documentary on the final days of the Sri Lanka war against the LTTE.
A large number of Sri Lankan’s dreamt of ridding the despotic regime of the Rajapaksa’s by electing Sarath Fonseka in the presidential race of 2010. Yet, quite a number of his staunch supporters sighed a breath of relief when he was not elected as President. This was because of his arrogance, and military style of administration he displayed during the last weeks of his presidential campaign. His iron-fisted approach was also evident from the style he tried to manage his party after his release from prison that led to some of the senior cadres leaving the party.
Remembrance day NOT War Hero’s Day is what Maithripala Sirisena promised. With Mahinda Rajapaksa’s continued attack claiming that the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe administration was betraying the war heroes, Sirisena followed the Rajapaksa style of celebrating the end of the war. A sad end to a noble idea of honouring all the war dead.