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Fonseka's court martial to commence on March 16

March 11, 2010 18:20 IST
Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa appointed a three-member court martial panel to try detained ex-army chief Sarath Fonseka on treason charges and the proceedings against him would be launched on March 16.

59-year-old Fonseka would be brought before the court martial on March 16 and a panel of three Majors General has been appointed for the purpose by Rajapaksa, who is also the commander-in-chief of Armed Forces, military spokesman Major General Prasad Samarasinghe told reporters.

He said proceedings will also be held on March 17 in connection with seven charges, including those relating to treason, against the former top general accused of plotting against the Rajapaksa government. Other charges against Fonseka included engaging in politics while in service and procuring arms violating regulations during the LTTE war that ended in May last year.

The summary of evidence over charges against Fonseka, made in compliance with provisions of the Army Act, was completed and handed over to the army chief Lieutenant General Jagath Jayasuriya recently.It was recorded by Major General Daya Rathnayaka and was completed within a period of 22 days from February 13 to March 6, according to an army communique.

This was done after obtaining evidence from 35 individuals comprising 22 army personnel, 7 police officers and 6 civilians, it said. Fonseka, who unsuccessfully contested the January 26 Presidential polls against Rajapaksa as a candidate of the joint opposition, is being detained at the Naval Headquarters in Colombo following his arrest on February 8.

He is now standing in the April 8 Parliamentary elections as a candidate of the JVP-dominated opposition Democratic National Alliance. On March 1, Fonseka-headed DNA had launched a signature campaign seeking his release.

The alliance will challenge former Premier and main opposition United Nationalist Party chief Ranil Wickremasinghe-led United National Front and President Rajapaksa's United People's Freedom Alliance in the general elections. Meanwhile, senior JVP leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake contended that Fonseka, as a former army chief, could be tried in a military court only by an officer senior to him.

The bench at a court martial hearing should be made of officers senior in rank to the one who is being tried. Since there is no officer senior in rank to Fonseka in Sri Lanka, he cannot be tried under the Army Act, he told reporters. According to Sri Lanka's Times online,the DNA has decided to file a case in the high court this week, challenging the move by the government to court martial Fonseka.

The case will be filed on the grounds that Fonseka was a four-star General and that he cannot be tried under Army Act. The army, however, has maintained that there is a provision in the law to try a senior military officer by a bench comprising officers junior to him in rank, the publication said.

T V Sriram in Colombo
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