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'War hero' Fonseka faces court martial, calls it 'illegal'

world Updated: Mar 16, 2010 18:04 IST
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Gen Sarath Fonseka, the former Sri Lankan Army Chief who led his forces to a comprehensive victory over the LTTE, faced a court martial on Tuesday on charges of engaging in politics while in service, but disputed the proceedings as "illegal" and refused to reply to charges.

Fonskea (59), a 'war hero' who lost the January 26 Presidential Polls to his former boss Mahinda Rajapaksa, faced charges that he prepared for contesting elections while still in uniform, which could land him in jail for up to 5 years.

He faced a three-member panel consisting of three top-ranking generals at the country's Naval Headquarters. Fonseka also faces charges of making irregular military purchases during the war with Tamil Tigers.

Fonseka said he did not accept the court martial's jurisdiction in the three-hour hearing, where he was assisted by his lawyer.

He said the court martial is "biased" as it comprises two Generals, who were disciplined by him while in service and the third was a close relative of the current Army Chief.

"We cannot accept this court martial panel. It is illegal," Fonseka's lawyers said.

The Sri Lankan Government had appointed two Court Martials to inquire separate charges against the former Army Chief, who was arrested on February 10 by the Army for allegedly planning a coup against the government while in service.

"I don't accept your jurisdiction," Fonseka told the court martial, according to Vijitha Herath, leader of the Democratic National Alliance.

Fonseka will appear tomorrow before the Second Court Martial that will hear charges relating to military procurement.

The first Court Martial will resume its sittings on 6th April, the panel announced.

Ending days of speculation, 59-year-old Fonseka, who suffered defeat in the Presidential Polls at the hands of his former boss and incumbent Mahinda Rajapaksa, appeared before the three-member First Court Martial .

There was speculation whether Fonseka would face Court Martial today as it was reported that he was not inclined to appear before the panel as it consisted his junior officers.

Both Court Martials are presided by Major General H L Weerathunga.

"These two Courts Martial are hearing charges only pertaining to the offences committed by him during his military career," a communique from the Army said.

Fonseka served the Sri Lankan Army for nearly four decades and presided over the last phase of the civil war that saw the elimination of LTTE.

Fonseka joined the Sri Lanka Army in 1970 and rose through the ranks to become the Army chief in 2005 immediately after Rajapaksa became President.

Fonseka led the Eelam War-IV, the last phase of the 30-year-old civil war, that culminated in the death of LTTE chief Velupillai Prabhakaran in May, 2009.

He was then made the chief of defence staff, a ceremonial post, which he quit in November last year to take a plunge in politics.