Support builds for Fonseka but army likely to go ahead with court martial | world | Hindustan Times
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Support builds for Fonseka but army likely to go ahead with court martial

world Updated: Feb 14, 2010 21:22 IST
Sutirtho Patranobis

A groundswell of support seems to be building up to free the arrested former army chief Sarath Fonseka. But the Sri Lankan army (SLA), it was learnt, is likely to go ahead and initiate court martial proceedings against him, the first four-star general in its history.

A board, of either three or five members, would be constituted to hear the evidence against Fonseka, accused of planning a coup among other things.

The court martial board would be headed by current chief of defence staff (CDS) and Sri Lankan air force chief, air marhsall Roshan Goonetilleke.

Goonetilleke was made CDS by President Mahinda Rajapaksa after Fonseka put in his papers in the middle of November to fight the presidential election. Though the air chief is junior to Fonseka in terms of years of service, Fonseka’s resignation made Goonetilleke the highest ranking officer in the Sri Lankan armed forces.

Under the Army Act, Fonseka would have the right to appeal to change officers on the board.

It was learnt that at present, the army was conducting the "summary of evidence" – or collecting evidence -- against Fonseka. "We have to do it soon," an army officer told HT.

The evidence would then be forwarded to the Judge Advocates (JA) office in the SLA. The JA’s office will decide whether the proof against Fonseka was clear enough to order a court martial. If not, then the summary of evidence would be forwarded to the Attorney General’s office for advice.

Referring the `summary of evidence’ to the JA’s office could be a formality as Defence secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa has already said the evidence against Fonseka seems strong enough to put him in jail for five years.

Hundreds of court martial proceedings have been carried out in SLA’s history, mostly to deal with deserters. In recent years, the highest ranking officer against whom court martial proceedings were initiated was a major general.

But in Fonseka’s case, the court martial would deep political implications. The opposition, for one, has vowed to continue the agitation demanding Fonseka’s release. The leader of United National Party and Fonseka’s ally Ranil Wickeremesinghe said on Sunday that people had protested in at least 20 cities against Fonseka’s arrest. "It is darkness at noon," Wickeremesinghe said, describing the ongoing political turmoil.