Court martial proceedings against the former Army Chief, General (retired) Sarath Fonseka, for alleged involvement in politics while in uniform, commenced here on Tuesday.

General (retired) Fonseka appeared before the court martial with his lawyers, headed by Rienzi Arsakularathne, the President's counsel. Representatives of the Attorney-General's Department appeared for the prosecution and the next date of hearing has been fixed two days ahead of the April 8 general election. There were reports of protests by the General's supporters in various parts of the island nation.

Last week, on a directive from President Mahinda Rajapaksa, Army Chief Jagath Jayasurya had named a three-member panel of two-star Generals to try General (retired) Fonseka on two different sets of charges. He is charged with engaging in politics while he was still the commander of the Army and making military purchases in contravention of set procedures.

Tuesday's court martial is the first against a former Army Chief in Sri Lanka and General (retired) Sarath Fonseka is the country's first four-star General. He was conferred the rank by Mr. Rajapaksa after the security forces defeated the LTTE in May last year.

General (retired) Fonseka was arrested on February 8 on several charges, including attempt to destabilise the government. He has challenged his arrest in the Supreme Court, which has fixed a hearing for April 26.

The two charges relating to politics and military purchases will be heard separately by the second court martial on Wednesday.

Both Courts Martial are presided over by Major-General H.L Weerathunga and served by Major-General A.L.R Wijethunga, Major-General D.R.A.B Jayathilake and Rear-Admiral W.W.J.S Fernando (Judge Advocate).

Separately, Presidential Secretariat, in a press statement, said that there had been a series of statements and comments on the internet in the past few days on alleged government plans to arrest NGO activists and to suppress and intimidate its opponents and critics.

It further said the government was in the process of preparing comprehensive legislation to govern NGO activities in the country, as there were many instances of malpractice, including misappropriation of huge sums donated by foreign governments and organisations. Once such legislation was in place, the government hoped NGO activities could be properly observed and monitored to suit national requirements, it added.

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