SF says felt he couldn’t work with President, Def. Secy, as Gota doubted his loyalty
May 25, 2011/ By A.J. Abeynayake
Former Army Chief Gen. Sarath Fonseka on Wednesday (25) said that he felt he couldn’t work with President Mahinda Rajapaksa and his brother Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, as the latter had doubted his loyalty during a meeting at the office of the Defence Secretary.
In spite of proving his allegiance, during his tenure as the Commander of the Army for three years and seven months, the Defence Secretary had dismissed the possibility of he being given the post as Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) with the authority to command and control ‘operational matters’, though there was provision for such in other countries. The meeting had been attended by service commanders, Gen. Fonseka said in his dock statement before the ‘White Flag’ Trial-at-Bar at the Colombo High Court.
Gen. Fonseka is indicted over a statement attributed to him in an interview published by The Sunday Leader of December 13, 2009, alleging that Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa had ordered those LTTE cadres carrying white flags on the Vanni east front to be shot.
The Sinha Regiment veteran said several journalists had told him that Director General of the Media Centre for National Security (MCNS) Lakshman Hulugalle directed them not to carry any news items about him.
“The media wanted to verify Hulugalle’s directive and I knew he was acting at the behest of the President and the Defence Secretary,” Gen. Fonseka said.
Commenting on the last presidential election, Gen. Fonseka said: “Various political parties, media and the civil society discuss the possibility of me being a candidate at the January 2010 presidential polls, though I hadn’t given my consent.”
He said that he had proposed a comprehensive plan to the Defence Secretary to re-settle some 300,000 war displaced persons and provide post-war accommodation to those who fought the LTTE at the risk of their lives. The Gen. alleged that neither the President nor the Defence Secretary had been interested in his proposal. He went on to allege that the government hadn’t been able to provide for the welfare of those who made sacrifices for the motherland.
Commenting on procurement, the Gen. said: “During my tenure as the Commander of the army, the Defence Minister and the Defence Secretary had bought four bullet proof BMWs, each at a staggering cost of Rs 88 mn, though they could have been acquired at Rs. 45 mn each. For the SRRAC summit, bullet proof Benz were bought for Rs. 55 mn each. The Defence Secretary handled the procurement.”
Gen. Fonseka alleged that the government had brazenly engaged in corruption and irregularities pertaining to procurement.
The former CDF alleged that the government had entered into an agreement to acquire one round of 130 mm artillery at a cost of $ 650, though at the beginning of the eelam war IV each round cost only $ 250. He claimed that service commanders had no say regarding procurement.
Alleging that the President had targeted him at the National Security Council (NSC) and other public functions held in honour of the armed forces, due to speculation regarding his possible entry into active politics, though he still wore the uniform, Gen. Fonseka said that BoC Chairman Gamini Wickremesinghe, Minister Rajitha Senaratne, Minister Patali Champika Ranawaka and Ven Ellawela Medhananda and Ven. Uduwe Dhammaloka thera tried to dissuade him from entering the fray.
He said that Secretary to the President Lalith Weeratunga, too, met him to discuss the crisis involving him, the President and the Defence Secretary. “As I told others, I assured Weeratunga that I wouldn’t enter politics as long as I remained in the army. But I was punished by Court Martial 1 on the basis of false evidence provided by UNP MPs Johnston Fernando and Lakshman Seneviratne.”
Gen. Fonseka said that he decided to quit the army following a meeting he had with the President on November 11, 2009. “At that meeting, the President justified all the injustices done to me by him and his brother. I felt that everything had been done with the President’s consent.”
“I sent in my retirement papers on November 12, 2009 even without telling my wife and children and I quit the army on November 16. The President, Defence Secretary and all those who called me the best army commander in the world lashed me once I declared my intention to contest the presidential poll,” Gen. Fonseka said.
Referring to the December 13, 2009 interview with The Sunday Leader, Gen. Fonseka said,” A journalist by the name of Rashmik Wijewardene had obtained an appointment from my Secretary to interview me. On the day of the interview, Wijewardene visited my office along with The Sunday Leader editor Frederica Jansz, its proprietor Lal Wickrematunga and a photographer. Wiejwardene interviewed me for about 30 minutes, though Ms Jansz didn’t ask anything. I have never been interviewed by Ms Jansz. Once Wijewardene and the photographer left my office, Ms. Jansz and Wickremetunga talked with me for about five minutes. We discussed how Rs. 1 mn provided by the UNP to the Sunday Leader was utilized for my propaganda campaign. At the end, Ms. Jansz inquired from me about print and electronic media reports with regard to allegations of the Defence Secretary ordering Maj. Gen. Shavendra Silva, the General Officer Commanding the 58 Division, to kill those LTTE leaders carrying white flags and coming to surrender on the Vanni front. I told her though I, too, have heard the story from two journalists, who had been with fighting formations at the final phase of the action, I didn’t know anything further. I told her that as far as I knew, no one walked towards the army carrying white flags and the army didn’t kill anyone carrying white flags.”
Countering Ms. Jansz evidence in the ‘White Flag’ case that his response to her query should be accurate than anything said by anyone due to him being the former army commander and had adequate time to verify the allegations, Gen. Fonseka said, “Ms. Janszclaim was absurd. In spite of a service commander hearing such an allegation against a Defence Secretary, anyone with brains will not make inquiries. Such a situation is similar to High Court Judge inquiring about a particular allegation levelled against a Supreme Court Judge.”
The war veteran emphasized that he never said Gota ordered them to be shot, though The Sunday Leader used quotation marks to prove that I said so. “I never told Ms. Jansz, Gota ordered them to be shot or mentioned the name of Basil Rajapaksa, though she reported as if I had mentioned the minister’s name. I never said anything about 3 LTTE leaders being shot as they came up to the army hoping to surrender. She used sections of news items published in the Daily Mirror and web sites and attributed them to me. Ms. Jansz never took any notes but she went to the extent of creating a note book to escape from being held accountable for making a false story. I heard Ms. Jansz giving evidence in the ‘White Flag’ case. I’m sure you’ll realize she is a very vindictive woman, who will lie to suit her strategy. She is accused of contempt of Court and I believe she is not even suitable to serve tea in an editorial.”
Gen. Fonseka said once he had raised the issue with Lal Wickremetunga, The Sunday Leader proprietor and Ms Jansz came to his office and the latter pleaded with him not to deny the December 13, 2009 lead story captioned “Gota ordered them to be shot” in its entirety as it could lead to her arrest due to the Defence Secretary having filed two cases against The Sunday Leader. Gen. Fonseka said that Messrs Mangala Samaraweera and Anura Kumara Dissanayake, too, had been present at the meeting.
This was after Wickremetunga promised to carry a clarification the following week.
Gen. Fonseka said that he refrained from totally denying The Sunday Leader article as the editor of the said newspaper and its managing director had pledged to back his presidential bid. The ex-army chief said that he issued a clarification to The Sunday Island the following week. (Sittings will resume today)