Sri Lanka President Mahinda Rajapaksa has accepted Chief of Defence Staff General Sarath Fonseka’s three page resignation letter citing 16 reasons to proceed on retirement from December 1.
Gen. Fonseka sent his letter of resignation on Thursday to the Secretary to President, Lalit Weeratunga within hours after former Prime Minister and opposition leader, Ranil Wickremesinghe, who heads the 12-party opposition alliance, returned to the island nation after consultations with New Delhi on the current developments in Sri Lanka.
“I gave my retirement papers,” Gen. Fonseka told the media at a Buddhist temple at Keliniya on the outskirts of Colombo in the evening.
“I have been serving my country in the past and I will serve the country in future as well.” Asked whether he would join politics, the General said: “I can’t comment as I am still in uniform. I will decide my future once my retirement comes into effect at the end of this month.”
Even as the General was inside the temple a group of persons staged a demonstration outside against him. They were later driven away by the security of the General. According to eyewitness accounts, the 200 odd assembly raised slogans to the effect that they will not betray the country to foreign powers.
Timing of resignation
The timing of the resignation, a consequence of rift between the high profile General and Mr. Rajapaksa in the post-Prabakaran Sri Lanka, is significant as President Rajapaksa is scheduled to announce dates for the general election and a possible presidential election at the convention of the ruling Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) on November 15 at 1.30 p.m.
Media Minister Lakshman Yapa Abeywardena told reporters on Thursday that Mr. Rajapaksa would be the only candidate of the ruling combine in the presidential poll. Opposition parties have been engaged in talks with Gen. Fonseka on fielding him against Mr. Rajapaksa.
First official confirmation of the contacts between the dominant opposition parties and Gen. Fonseka came on Wednesday from the leader of Sri Lanka’s Western People’s Front (WPF) and Colombo district parliamentarian, Mano Ganeshan.
In a lengthy response to criticism by a Sri Lanka columnist in Groundviews, Sri Lanka’s first citizens journalism website, on how a party which claims to represent aspirations and concerns of Tamils could even consider the General who spearheaded the Eelam War IV as a possible Presidential candidate, Mr. Ganeshan had said his party sent a set of questions to Gen. Fonseka and was awaiting his response.
The growing bond between Gen. Fonseka and the main opposition party in Sri Lanka was evident when the United National Party (UNP) parliamentarian, John Amaratunge in a statement charged the Government of instructing all Town planning authorities to remove all the Hoardings, cutouts and portraits on the Highways of former Army Commander.
“Gen. Fonseka was the Hero in the war victory. Hence it is not a matter for surprise that the people recognize and hold him in high esteem as a War Hero. He is the Commander who extricated the country from the cruel clutches of terrorism by winning the war which claimed countless lives and caused endless miseries to the people, by his clever strategies and excellent organization and motivation of his Forces. People spending their own monies conducted ceremonies and felicitations on account of this Hero to make this known through the media and other sources”, the statement said.
UNP condemns behaviour of Govt
The MP said that UNP totally condemn `disdainful and disgraceful’ behaviour of the Government, which can provoke the resentment of the people.
“If it is the Govt.’s objective to undermine and underrate his Heroism by its dastardly action, it is something impossible for the Govt. to achieve. There is no doubt this action will only rally the people to hold him in even greater respect”.
Besides endorsement from the leader of the 12 party opposition front led by Mr. Ranil Wickremesinghe, the man who escaped death in the hands of a LTTE woman suicide bomber in April 2006 has the indirect backing of the ultra-national Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP). The party which backed Mr. Rajapaksa in the 2005 Presidential election, in the last few months has been openly campaigning for his ouster.
Following a call for `work to rule’ by JVP affiliated trade unions, from Wednesday, President Rajapaksa early this week had said that he will counter attempts to create anarchy in the island nation.
A Government Minister told Parliament last week that President Rajapaksa is not deterred by the plans of the opposition to put up any candidate including Gen. Fonseka in the event of a Presidential election.
The determination on the dominant opposition parties to go whole hog against Mr. Rajapaka came to fore on November with the birth of 12-party United National Party (UNP) led by the main opposition party United National Party (UNP) with the explicit objective of combating the “corrupt and despotic Rajapaksa family regime” and switch over to Indian-style parliamentary democracy.
The majority of the opposition parties are of the view that given the popularity of General Fonseka as a war hero, he is the ideal candidate to take on Mr. Rajapaksa. The new grouping included the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress, Democratic People’s Front and the splinter group of the ruling party led by the former Foreign Minister, Mangala Samaraweera.
At the launch ceremony of the new formation Mr. Samaraweera had said: “Historians would record today’s event as a great milestone in Sri Lanka’s history. We have formed the United National Front, in order to defeat the forces of the Rajapaksa regime, which managed during the past four years to drag the country in to a very dangerous precipice.”
However, a section of the Tamil parties including the TNA are yet to finalise their strategy to deal with the emerging political scenario. The dilemma before the Tamil parties was best articulated in the response of Mano Ganeshan on Groundviews web site (http://www.groundviews.org/).
Meanwhile, the Government on Thursday night announced relaxation of certain restrictions on goods and passenger transportation on the A-9 Road, for the convenience of the public in Jaffna. A-9 highway is the only road link between Jaffna peninsula and the rest of Sri Lanka and it was closed from August 2006 due to war. It was partially opened in July this year.
An announcement by the Government said henceforth, “There is no restriction to transport goods to Jaffna and back as in the case of any other part of the country.
“The vehicles that are already registered with the Commissioner General of Essential Service (CGES), can engage in the transportation of goods. Registration of vehicles by CGES for transportation of goods to Jaffna is extended till 30 November 2009.
“The vehicles belonging to the Government, Govt. Corporations, Banks and Manufacturing Companies, will be permitted to transport goods by their own vehicles, for a period of 6 months continually. They are requested to submit applications for approval top CGES.
“The general public is permitted to travel to Jaffna and back by public transport and private busses which are now in operation. Any private bus / coach owner, who wishes to operate between Colombo and Jaffna, should apply to the National Transport commission for route permit.
“Private vessels are permitted to carry cargo to the North from ant port of the country, subject to naval clearance and operational requirements of the Sri Lanka Ports authority. Approval of the CGES is not required”.