Sri Lanka’s top general, chief of defence staff (CDS) general Sarath Fonseka on Thursday sought to prematurely retire from his post bringing to an end weeks of speculation that he had decided to shed uniform and join politics.
Fonseka handed over the 12-page letter in English expressing his wish to President Mahinda Rajapaks through the defence ministry soon after welcoming the visiting Myanmar junta chief general Than Shwe as part of the official Sri Lankan delegation.
Speaking to HT Thursday evening, Fonseka said: "certain decisions had to be taken…at the right time. I have given a number of reasons (for wanting to retire). I still had one-and-half years to go before retirement."
"I cannot divulge the reasons now…it was a difficult decision. This is the first time a serving general has retired before time," Fonseka said.
Fonseka added that on Wednesday he had indicated to Preisdent Rajapaksa that he wanted to put in his papers. "I cannot talk about my future course of action as I am still in uniform till November 30."
HT learnt earlier this week that Fonseka was unhappy with the way he was treated after the victory against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in May.
The government tried to take the development in its stride. "These things happen. Maybe, he wants time to take rest. I am not surprised. He was about to retire after four extensions. He was made army chief eight days before retirement (on December 6, 2005). We had to extend his tenure every year since then,’’ defence secretary, and President’s brother, Gotabhaya Rajapaksa told HT.
The defence secretary played down Fonseka’s role in defeating the LTTE. "Why him? The navy and air force commanders had equal roles…very important people…they were also responsible (in defeating the Tigers)," Rajapaksa, who knows Fonseka for over 30 years and fought in the same regiment, said.
Technically the letter he submitted to President Rajapaksa had ``sought permission from the President to retire’’ as, according to the laws of executive presidency, the President is the chief of the armed forces. Also, Fonseka is yet to voice his political ambitions publicly.
But his abrupt "retirement" from the services within six months of leading – as army chief – the Sri Lankan armed forces to a famous victory against the LTTE leaves little doubt that Fonseka would emerge as the opposition’s Presidential candidate against incumbent Mahinda Rajapaksa.
Fonseka has long been on the LTTE hit list. In April 2006, he was seriously injured when an apparently pregnant suicide cadre blew herself up close to his car inside the army hospital. Few months ago, it was revealed that the LTTE had also planted a mole as a cook in Fonseka’s kitchen.