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From war hero to military custody

world Updated: Feb 09, 2010 17:40 IST
Sutirtho Patranobis

It was a mild Colombo evening in January, 2009. Journalists were invited to (then) army chief Sarath Fonseka’s fortress-like home for an interaction. The house was in the middle of a public road but blocked at that time with sandbags, spiked-barricades and armoured cars.

Inside, Fonseka was holding fort on the soft lawns, under the limelight of a wave of violent victories against the Tamil Tigers. Wearing a silk shirt with a dragon designed on it, Fonseka appeared casual but confident. He vowed that the next army chief will not have to deal with the LTTE. (The military victory came in May, 2009) He mingled with reporters and editors, explaining how the army had cornered the Tigers along a sliver of coastal land.

Most of us left after dinner but the party went on.

A year later, the party seems to be over for Fonseka. As he was being escorted – some said ``lifted and dragged’’ – out of office on Monday night by the military police, Fonseka could have thought of times when men in military uniform would obey his orders like robots; the same men last night had orders to arrest him for committing ``military offences’’ – read sedition -- while a serving officer.

Reports about Fonseka’s arrest were making rounds since he lost heavily to President Mahinda Rajapaksa last month. Last week’s army purge was an indicator but few believed that country’s first four-star general would indeed be arrested. After all, he had also polled more than 4 million votes.

Ironically, it was learnt that Fonseka was being held at a Sri Lanka navy facility; during his tenure as army chief, Fonseka had a running but tacit battle with the then navy chief, now a government secretary and considered close to Rajapaksa.

I met Fonseka in August when he was the chief of defence staff. He evaded the question of joining politics. ``How can I speak about the next 10 years?’’, he said, while showing me photographs of dead LTTE leaders. As it turns out, Fonseka had no idea.