2ND LEAD (Correction, Update)

Fonseka claims credit for successful ‘retaliations’

[TamilNet, Sunday, 26 March 2006, 01:46 GMT]
Sri Lanka’s Army commander, Lt. Gen. Sarath Fonseka, has claimed credit for a number of killings and disappearances of Tamil political activists in during the heightened violence in December and January. The Sunday Times quoted him as telling troops: “we bravely faced the situation and retaliated on those who attacked us. Thereafter we took a proactive role by looking for those who attacked us and retaliated in places like Jaffna and Batticaloa.”

Lt. Gen. Sarath Fonseka
Lt.Gen. Fonseka was referring to Tamil activists in government-controlled areas responsible for coordinating a serious of large rallies under the ‘Pongu Thamil’ slogan and also for other smaller demonstrations, some of which become violent confrontations between protestors and Sri Lankan security forces.

Seen as LTTE sympathizers, 'Pongu Thamil' campaigners and student activists have been targets of a murderous campaign in December and January by Army-backed paramilitaries and security forces amid a general and sharp escalation in violence.

The US State Department annual human rights report published last month said there were “25 instances of politically motivated disappearances at the hands of the security forces during the year, and 10 instances by paramilitary forces allegedly tied to the government,” citing figures by Sri Lanka’s Human Rights Commission.

But Tamil media report up to fifty disappearances and scores of civilians being killed in the two most violent months since the February 2002 Ceasefire Agreement (CFA) was signed. At least 80 security forces were killed in claymore attacks blamed on the Tigers in that period.

Batticalo and Jaffna have been the centers of paramilitary-led violence in Sri Lanka’s former war zones.

Speaking to troops in Vavuniya two weeks ago, Lt. Gen. Fonseka declared that the Army today was not going to be docile as when Chandrika Kumaratunga was President.

"People thought like in the past one and half or two years we will put the white flag and shape up matters," he said, referring to the period before November 17, 2005, when President Mahinda Rajapakse succeeded Kumaratunga.

Lt. Gen. Fonseka said his aggressive military ‘retaliation’ “is the reason why the LTTE returned to peace talks in such a short period.”

Echoing President Rajapakse’s election pledges, Lt. Gen. Fonseka said, “the difference [between previous peace efforts and the present one] is that the [new] government is going for talks with 'peace and respect.'”

Referring contemptuously to the United National Front (UNF) government of Premier Ranil Wickremesinge, Lt. Gen. Fonseka said: “those days people spoke about peace as they were scared to face the LTTE.”

“If they could have, they would have eliminated the LTTE, but because they [UNF leaders] were scared of them [Tigers] they spoke about peace.”

Even as the Sri Lanka-LTTE talks in Geneva center on stabilizing and implementing the CFA, Lt. Gen. Fonseka openly criticized the agreement at the launch of the Army’s revamped website last week.

No one consulted the Army before signing the CFA and if their opinion had been sought they would not have accepted the conditions in the agreement, he said.

"The LTTE has exploited CFA's flaws to enter government controlled areas to carry out political activities," Lt. Gen. Fonseka has said.

Commenting on Lt. Gen. Fonseka’s comments, the Sunday Times’ Political Column noted they “assume great significance just ahead of next month's peace talks [in Geneva].”

“Even if it is embarrassing for President Rajapaksa's Government, this is the first time a serving senior officer has come out so openly,” the Political column said.

The Column also drew parallels between the Lt. Gen. Fonseka’s comments and the pompous and jingoistic statements frequently issued by Deputy Defence Minister A. Ratwatte, who oversaw the disastrous ‘Operation Jaya Sikirui’ in the late ninties.

Lt. Gen. Fonseka came to prominence in the peace process when, in December 2002, he issued a public letter defying the CFA and refusing to withdraw from High Security Zones (HSZs) as stipulated in it.

At the time, Fonseka – then a Major General – was No3 in the Sri Lanka and was reportedly eying the role of Army commander. President Kumaratunga however gave the job to Maj. Gen. Shantha Kottegoda.

But when President Rajapakse came to power, he appointed Lt. Gen. Fonseka to the post.

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