Colombo Telegraph

Sri Lanka’s Alleged War Criminal & Human Rights Violator Elevated To Field Marshal

General Gardihewa Sarath Chandralal Fonseka ( known as Sarath Fonseka) was elevated to the rank of Field Marshal by the President Maithripala Sirisena yesterday. He is the first Sri Lankan to be honoured with the highest rank in the Army.

Fonseka

“he was the Army Commander during the war and particularly during the last days and weeks of the war which ended in May 2009. Several independent reports, witnesses and evidences including the report by the UN Panel of Experts have alleged that international human rights and international humanitarian laws were breached during the war and in particular at the end of the war. It is alleged war crimes were committed. The man in charge of the army that’s accused of all these was General Fonseka.” Suren Surendiran, the spokesperson of the Global Tamil Forum told Colombo Telegraph.

Fonseka joined the Sri Lanka Army in 1970 and served as the Commander of the Army from 6 December 2005 – 15 July 2009. As commander, he oversaw the final phase of the Sri Lankan Civil War, which resulted in the total defeat of the militant Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam organisation. He also survived an assassination attempt when an LTTE suicide bomber attacked his motorcade in April 2006. Following the end of the war Fonseka was promoted to a four star rank in the Sri Lanka Army, becoming the first serving officer to hold a four star rank.

In November 2009, Fonseka formally announced his candidature in the 2010 Sri Lankan Presidential Election. Following his election defeat, Fonseka was arrested on 8 February 2010, and the government announced he will be court-martialed for committing “military offences.” He was found guilty of corrupt military supply deals and sentenced to three years in prison. After serving more than 2 years in prison, Fonseka was released on 21 May 2012. As per the pre-election statement, President Maithripala Sirisena, gave him the Complete Presidential Pardon and acquitted him of all the charges against him on the 22nd of January 2015, restoring his Civic Rights.

According to a leaked US diplomatic cable, the US government had once cancelled Fonseka’s invitation to attend a Chief of Defense conference in Hawaii due to U.S. concerns about his involvement in human-rights violations during the conflict with the LTTE.

He was also accused of attacking and killing many journalists during his tenure as the Commander.

We publish below the cable in full;

VZCZCXRO6168
OO RUEHAG RUEHROV RUEHSL RUEHSR
DE RUEHLM #1006/01 3061237
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
O 021237Z NOV 09
FM AMEMBASSY COLOMBO
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 0714
INFO RUCNMEM/EU MEMBER STATES COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
RUEHKA/AMEMBASSY DHAKA PRIORITY 2003
RUEHIL/AMEMBASSY ISLAMABAD PRIORITY 9039
RUEHKT/AMEMBASSY KATHMANDU PRIORITY 7277
RUEHLO/AMEMBASSY LONDON PRIORITY 5196
RUEHNE/AMEMBASSY NEW DELHI PRIORITY 3431
RUEHNY/AMEMBASSY OSLO PRIORITY 5148
RUEHOT/AMEMBASSY OTTAWA PRIORITY 0021
RUEHSM/AMEMBASSY STOCKHOLM PRIORITY 0683
RUEHKO/AMEMBASSY TOKYO PRIORITY 4259
RUEHCG/AMCONSUL CHENNAI PRIORITY 9602
RUEHBI/AMCONSUL MUMBAI PRIORITY 6896
RUEHON/AMCONSUL TORONTO PRIORITY 1357
RHEFDIA/DIA WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
RUEHGV/USMISSION GENEVA PRIORITY 3806
RHHMUNA/HQ USPACOM HONOLULU HI PRIORITY
RUEHBS/USEU BRUSSELS PRIORITY
RHEHAAA/NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHDC PRIORITY
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 COLOMBO 001006

SIPDIS

DEPARTMENT FOR SCA/INSB

E.O. 12958: DECL: 11/02/2019
TAGS: PGOV PREL PREF PHUM PTER EAID MOPS CE
SUBJECT: MFA CALLS IN AMBASSADOR OVER DHS QUESTIONING OF
CHOD FONSEKA

COLOMBO 00001006 001.2 OF 003

Classified By: DEPUTY CHIEF OF MISSION VALERIE C. FOWLER. REASONS 1.4
(B) AND (D).

¶1. (C) On November 2, Foreign Minister Bogollagama called in
Ambassador regarding reports that the U.S. Department of
Homeland Security had requested that Sri Lankan Chief of
Defense (CHOD) Sarath Fonseka come in for a “voluntary”
interview with the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement
office in Oklahoma City on November 4. (NOTE: Fonseka is a
Legal Permanent Resident (LPR) in the United States and has
family and property in Oklahoma. He currently is in the U.S.
visiting family and re-establishing his LPR status. END
NOTE.) Bogollagama said the interview was a matter of
“urgency and relevance” to the government of Sri Lanka (GSL)
and asked for information to “help us understand and
formulate a proper reaction.”
¶2. (C) Ambassador recounted recent developments regarding
Fonseka, including cancellation of his invitation to attend
the recent Chiefs of Defense conference in Hawaii due to U.S.
concerns about his involvement in human-rights violations
during the conflict with the LTTE. She also explained that
as a green-card holder, Fonseka was required by U.S. law to
confirm his status as an LPR. But as regards the DHS request
to see Fonseka on November 4, Ambassador said she did not
know the specific reason for the invitation.

¶3. (C) Bogollagama said what concerned the GSL were reports
that a DHS lawyer had allegedly told Fonseka that the purpose
of the interview was to gather information about the possible
involvement in war crimes of SL Defense Secretary (and
president’s brother and U.S. citizen) Gotabhaya Rajapaksa.
He said the GSL was very concerned about using Fonseka as a
source for “prying” into the actions of the government in Sri
Lanka and was seeking “immediate action” to prevent anything
further from happening on November 4. He claimed that their
sources (presumably the law firm Patton Boggs, which embassy
understands has been hired to represent the GSL) told them
that DHS had investigated war crimes in the past.
Bogollagama said any questioning of Fonseka about SL
“official” information would be frowned upon by the GSL and
“could seriously impact our relationship.”

¶4. (C) Bogollagama passed to Ambassador an Aide Memoire,
which noted that allegations against the defense secretary
affected the vital interests of the GSL and had already
occupied considerable time and attention of both governments
at the highest levels. It noted that the SL president had
formed a panel to consider the matters raised in the U.S.
Report to Congress on Incidents During the Recent Conflict in
Sri Lanka and claimed that any information Fonseka had gained
in performance of his official duties had the status of
“privileged information.” It closed with a request to the
U.S. State Department to inform DHS that “there is every
reason for the interview proposed for the 4th November 2009,
to not take place,” and noted the GSL’s view that DHS “should
forthwith desist from any endeavor in this direction.”
(NOTE: The full text of the Aide Memoire is reproduced in
para 6 below. END NOTE.)

COMMENT
——-

¶5. (C) We do not know how much of the story about DHS’s
request to interview Fonseka is real and how much may have
been fabricated by Fonseka himself to score points against
the Rajapaksas. Whatever the reality, the prospect of U.S.
officials questioning Fonseka regarding Gotabhaya Rajapaksa’s
actions during the conflict clearly is of great concern in
Colombo and puts the leadership in a tight spot. While the
Rajapaksas are keen on eliminating or neutralizing Fonseka as

COLOMBO 00001006 002.2 OF 003

a potential presidential candidate, who could split the
Singhalese vote, they do not have an interest in him being
pressured as a war crimes accomplice, who might be willing to
provide testimony against the Rajapaksas. They would like to
see Fonseka go quietly into retirement as a war hero who time
has passed, but the general appears to have other plans. END
COMMENT.

¶6. (SBU) BEGIN TEXT OF AIDE MEMOIRE (grammatical and other
irregularities are preserved from the original):

The assistance of the US State Department is sought
concerning an unwelcome intervention by the US Department of
Homeland Security (DHS), in a matter of grave concern, that
has the potential to complicate the existing dialogue between
the friendly Governments of Sri Lanka and of the United
States.

The Government of Sri Lanka is informed that Sri Lanka’s
Chief of Defence Staff General Sarath Fonseka who at present
is in the United States, has received a letter calling him
for an interview with the DHS Immigration and Customs
Enforcement on Wednesday, November 04, 2009 at 3:00 p.m. in
Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.

In addition, on the 28th of October, General Fonseka had
received a telephone call from a DHS Attorney to the effect
that the intention behind the request for the interview is to
use him “as a source against human rights violations done by
Secretary/Defence”. It had been clarified during the
telephone conversation that the reference to
“Secretary/Defence” relates to Mr. Gotabaya Rajapaksa, the
Secretary of the Ministry of Defence, Public Security, Law
and Order of Sri Lanka.

It is pertinent to recall in this regard that Mr. Gotabaya
Rajapaksa’s duties as Secretary of that Ministry required his
dealing with a situation of a grave onslaught that threatened
the integrity of Sri Lanka and which was launched by the
LTTE, an organization proscribed by several countries
including the United States, for its terrorist activities.
The allegations therefore leveled against the Sri Lankan
Defence Secretary affect the vital interests of the
Government of Sri Lanka and have occupied considerable time
and attention of the respective Governments, at the highest
levels. In fact, the US Ambassador in Colombo has already
been briefed of the decision taken by the President of Sri
Lanka to appoint a Panel to consider the matters raised in
the US Department of State 2009 Report to Congress on
Incidents During the Recent Conflict in Sri Lanka. This
decision by the President stems from Sri Lanka’s unbroken
commitment as a democratic nation to the Rule of Law, under
which allegations are first assessed as to whether they
possess any substance meriting further inquiry.

The Chief of Defence Staff is a high level position within
the Sri Lanka Government. General Fonseka is on an official
visit on behalf of the Government of Sri Lanka. He traveled
to the United States on a diplomatic passport for prearranged
appointments with senior personalities of the State
Department and other US Government Agencies. Moreover,
whatever General Fonseka may have become aware of during his
service with the Government of Sri Lanka and in the course of
his duties, has the status of privileged information. He has
no authority to divulge or share this information with third
parties, without the prior approval and consent of the Sri
Lanka authorities.

Given the above, it is hereby requested for the US State
Department to inform the Department of Homeland Security that

COLOMBO 00001006 003.2 OF 003

there is every reason for the interview proposed for 4th
November 2009, to not take place. The Government of Sri
Lanka is of the view that the Department of Homeland Security
should forthwith desist from any endeavor in this direction.

Colombo
2nd November 2009

END TEXT OF AIDE MEMOIRE
BUTENIS

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