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Court to rule in trial of SL ex-army chief

A Sri Lankan court was to deliver a verdict Friday on former army chief Sarath Fonseka, accused of inciting violence by alleging the president's brother ordered the execution of surrendering rebels.

world Updated: Nov 18, 2011 10:53 IST

A Sri Lankan court was to deliver a verdict Friday on former army chief Sarath Fonseka, accused of inciting violence by alleging the president's brother ordered the execution of surrendering rebels.

If convicted, Fonseka, who is currently serving a 30-month jail term imposed by a court martial and ran against the president in elections, could face up to 20 years' imprisonment.

Security was tight around the Colombo high court ahead of the judgement, with hundreds of armed police guarding the complex.

The charges against Fonseka stem from comments he made to a newspaper that troops had shot dead a number of Tamil Tiger separatist leaders when they tried to surrender at the end of Sri Lanka's long-running ethnic conflict in May 2009.

Fonseka insisted the published comments -- which suggested Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapakse, the younger brother of President Mahinda Rajapakse, had ordered the killings -- had misquoted him.

The trial before a three-judge high court bench took 16 months. Fonseka supporters had staged demonstrations during previous hearings.

A retired four-star general, Fonseka led the Sri Lankan army to its 2009 victory over the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), ending the island's 37-year separatist conflict.

But he has since fallen out with the government and says the legal cases against him are politically motivated.

Fonseka was arrested shortly after he failed to unseat President Rajapakse at a January 2010 election.

In September last year, a court martial sentenced him to 30 months for corruption related to irregularities in military procurements as army chief. He also lost the parliamentary seat he won in April 2010 polls.

An earlier court martial found him guilty of interfering in politics while in uniform and stripped him of his rank and pension.

The United Nations estimates that at least 7,000 ethnic Tamil civilians were killed in the final months of fighting between government troops and the Tamil Tigers.

Fonseka angered the government by saying he would willingly testify before any international tribunal probing possible war crimes charges.

Friday's verdict coincides with President Rajapakse's 66th birthday and the court complex was decorated with huge cut-outs of the president's image.