The four decade military career of high profile General Sarath Fonseka, who led Sri Lanka's war against the LTTE, ended on Monday with President Mahinda Rajapaksa naming Air Chief Roshan Gunathilleke to perform the duties and functions of the office of the Chief of Defence Staff (CDS).
However, Gen. Fonseka may not adhere to the dictum, ` Old Soldiers never die, they just fade away!! All indications are that the `War Hero’ would enter public life and fancy his chances of being a consensus opposition candidate against the incumbent President Rajapaksa in the event of a Presidential election.
Gen. Fonseka was granted permission by the President last Thursday within hours after he wrote a three page letter to Mr. Rajapaksa listing 16 reasons that have prompted to bid good bye his life long military career.
On Friday Secretary to the President Lalith Werathunga wrote on behalf of Mr. Rajapaksa to the CDS on the green signal to his pre-mature retirement plans. Copy of Mr. Werathunga’s letter was made public on Sunday.
On Monday President’s Secretary told the Information Department web site (www.news.lk) that Mr. Rajapaksa has appointed a successor to Gen. Fonseka. The new CDS. Air Chief Gunathileke has been assigned to take charge of responsibilities entrusted to Gen. (retd) Fonseka in addition to his current post.
In his letter to Gen. Fonseka President’s Secretary said, “I am directed by His Excellency the President to acknowledge receipt of your letter dated 12 November 2009 seeking permission to retire from the Regular Force of the Sri Lanka Army.
“I have also been directed by His Excellency the President to inform you that in keeping with your wish to proceed on retirement without further delay as you have already over stayed your date of retirement by four years, you will be retired from the Sri Lanka Army with immediate effect. Consequently, you will cease to hold office as Chief of Defence Staff, also with immediate effect.
“This decision has been arrived at having giving anxious consideration to the fact that you yourself believe that H.E. the President and the Government have lost the trust and faith bestowed upon you, as the senior most serving military officer in the country.
“I have been further directed to inform you that you will also be provided with adequate security commensurate with the level of threat. In regard to the numerous statements made by you in your letter under reference and Annex A, I’m directed by His Excellency the President to inform you that a further communication will follow setting out the position of the Government”.
That there is no love lost between the President and Gen. (retd) Fonseka was more than evident when the former at the national convention of his party on Sunday evening hit out at the retired General. He bemoaned that when the notion to develop the country was set in motion, there could be patriots who could become traitors for political reasons. "Such elements will only honour the last wish of LTTE leader Prabakaran who wanted to divide the military and the people."
There he announced that the ruling Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) would soon decide on the wishes of the majority of SLFP leaders and cadre for a presidential election before the parliamentary poll due before April.
Cheered by thousands of his supporters, Mr. Rajapaksa left no one in doubt that he is least bothered at the prospect of Gen. Fonseka being pitted as a consensus Opposition candidate against him.
Mr. Rajapaksa ended the suspense on whether or not he would call for a presidential election after the Gen. Fonseka episode in a dramatic fashion by posing a question at the convention whether they wanted a presidential or a parliamentary election early.
The response was for a presidential poll. "You want me to cut short two years while the Parliament has a few months more. Good... I will put your request to the party to make a decision," Mr. Rajapaksa said.
He asserted that he was not afraid to face an election and accused the Opposition of operating with "anti-national interests" and attempting to politicise the military. "The Opposition is so weak that it was now begging for a candidate to contest the election."
Among the 16 reasons cited by Gen. (retd) Fonseka in his letter, seeking pre-mature retirement from the military with effect from December 1, to President included Government loss of faith in him and request by Colombo to New Delhi on October 15 to place its troops on alert to counter a possible coup by a section of the military.
The General pleaded, “Considering the facts mentioned in the Annex and more, which I am privy to withhold, I am compelled to believe that Your Excellency and the Government has lost your trust and faith bestowed upon me for reasons best known to Your Excellency.
“Hence as the senior most serving military officer in the Country with 40 years of service, such a situation does not warrant a continuation of my duties any longer, thereby I have the honour to request that I be permitted to terminate my services and retire from the Regular Force of the Army with effect from 01st December 2009”.
On the events of October 15 Gen. (retd) Fonseka noted, “With a pain of mind it was noted that the same Army which gained victory for the Nation was suspected of staging a coup and thereby alerting the Government of India once again on the 15th of October 2009, unnecessarily placing the Indian Troops on high alert. “This action did tarnish the image and reputation gained by the Sri Lanka Army as a competent and professional organization who was capable of defeating a terrorist group after the Malayan Emergency, in the eyes of the World. This suspicion would have been due to the loyalty of the Sri Lanka Army towards me as its past Commander who led the Army to the historic victory”.
Gen. (retd) Fonseka had complained that he was removed from the job of Army Chief in July 15 and made the CDS despite his request to allow him continue as Commander of the Army until it celebrated 60th anniversary (October 10, 2009) on the basis of reports from various agencies of a possible coup immediately after the victory over the LTTE. “This fear psychosis of a coup is well known among the defence circle”.
The retired General had further complained that President has gone ahead with appointment of Jagath Jayasuriya as the new Army Commander against whom disciplinary inquiry is pending.
“Appointing an officer pending a disciplinary inquiry who performed duties only as a holding formation commander in the final battle as my successor, disregarding my recommendations to appoint Major General G. A. Chandrasiri as the Commander of the Army who was the then Chief of Staff and an officer with an exemplary service as the Security Forces Commander in Jaffna for over 3 years. This has already led to a deterioration of the high standards I was capable of introducing to the Army, to my bitter disappointment”, the letter said.
Gen. Fonseka said the plight of the war displaced, nearly 1.5 lakh Tamil civilians currently housed in Government run camps in the north, is of great concern to him as they continue to live in `appalling conditions’ due to lack of proper Government planning.
“…today many of them are continuing to live in appalling conditions due to the lack of proper planning on the part of the government and the IDPs who have friends and relatives elsewhere in the country must be given the choice to live with them until proper demining has been done in their areas.
“Your Excellency’s government has yet to win the peace in spite of the fact that the Army under my leadership won the war. There is no clear policy to win the hearts and minds of the Tamil people, which will surely ruin the victory, attained paving the way for yet another uprising in the future”.
Having shed the uniform and in principle secured the nod of most of the influential political rivals of Mr. Rajapaksa, the retired General is all set to don political robes.
It would be watched with interest how the General convinces the Tamils that he is a better bet than Mr. Rajapaksa in serving their interests. The dilemma before the Tamil parties was best articulated in the response of Mano Ganeshan on Groundviews web site (http://www.groundviews.org/). Mr. Ganeshan has sent a questionnaire to Gen. Fonseka and is awaiting his response.