Sri Lanka

Sri Lankan former army chief goes on trial

Reuters

Sri Lanka's former army chief has appeared before a military court on controversial charges that could see him jailed for up to five years. After running against the president in last January’s elections, Sarath Fonseka faces charges of illegally engaging in politics while serving in the military.

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Fonseka, who helped to end Sri Lanka’s 37-year civil war last year, appeared before a three-member court martial panel on Tuesday. He is also due to face a parallel charge of making irregular military purchases on Wednesday.

After unsuccessfully challenging his former boss and ally President Mahinda Rajapakse in January elections, Fonseka is now a sworn political enemy of the Sri Lankan leader.

Fonseka’s spokesperson, Anura Kumara Dissanayake, said the retired general’s legal team had raised preliminary objections to the panel because “all three military judges were seen as biased against General Fonseka".

Fonseka says the accusations are politically motivated and part of a vendetta designed to stop him campaigning for parliamentary elections due on April 8.

President Rajapakse has been accused by political opponents and international human rights groups of suppressing dissent and tightening his grip on the opposition and media since his re-election in January.

The 59-year-old Fonseka had refused to co-operate with military investigators, arguing that they have no right to prosecute him under military law since he retired in November.

The proceedings Tuesday ended after nearly three hours with the panel fixing a further hearing for 6 April.

Fonseka was arrested after senior government figures declared that he was planning a military coup and had conspired to assassinate the president, but none of these more serious charges has been brought against him.

Tuesday's court martial is the first against an army chief in Sri Lanka.

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