Sri Lanka Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) Sarath Fonseka, currently on a private visit to the U.S., has written to the Sri Lankan Mission in Washington saying that he has been asked by American officials to give evidence against Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa over alleged human rights abuses in the island nation during the recent anti-LTTE war, the English paper Daily Mirror said in a report posted on its website on Sunday evening.
A 68-page report submitted by the U.S. Department of State to Congress on October 22, detailed allegations of “atrocities” by both the military and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam cadres during the final stages of the war.
The report contains a reference to Gen. Fonseka. It says: “A media outlet reported on July 18 that at a celebrity event in Ambalangoda, Army Chief General Sarath Fonseka stated that the military had to overlook the traditional rules of war and even kill LTTE rebels who came to surrender carrying white flags during the war against the LTTE.”
Quoting an unnamed ‘highly placed diplomatic source,’ the paper said two U.S. officials had contacted the CDS on his son-in-law’s telephone to make the request.
Sri Lanka Foreign Minister Rohitha Bogolagamma is scheduled to hold a news conference here on Monday on the ‘recent developments’ including the U.S. request to Gen. Fonseka.
A senior official in the Foreign Office, when approached by The Hindu to comment on the newspaper report said, “We have nothing to say at the moment. All issues would be cleared at the press conference of the Foreign Minister.”
Gen. Fonseka, who led the Eelam War IV from August 2006 to May 2009, has been the focus of attention of Sri Lankan Opposition parties and the media as a possible combined nominee of the Opposition against the Sri Lanka President Mahinda Rajapaksa.
Colombo-based English weekly Sunday Times, in a front page report said that Gen. Fonseka has been told to face a “voluntary meeting” with the Department of Homeland Security in connection with the recent State Department report to the Congress on the war against the LTTE which concluded in May.
“Reports reaching the highest levels of the Government say U.S. Department of Homeland Security officials want to interview him on Wednesday [November 4] in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Gen. Fonseka, who is a U.S. Green Card holder, has a residence in Oklahoma. His visit is in connection with renewing his Green Card which affords him residency in the U.S. This is a prelude to U.S. citizenship.
“He had already sought legal advice from Fred Fielding, a former White House Counsel to late Presidents Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan and former President George W. Bush. His lawyer had advised that the CDS should face the meeting and answer all questions truthfully.
“Thereafter, according to highly placed Government sources in Colombo, Sri Lanka’s Ambassador who learnt of the U.S. move, mobilised lawyers from Patton Boggs, the law firm hired by the mission for lobbying and promotional work, to fly to Tulsa. Gen. Fonseka has agreed to drop lawyer Fielding from representing him and to retain the services of Patton Boggs,” the weekly said.
It went on to add that it was not immediately clear whether Patton Boggs lawyers would advise Gen. Fonseka to claim diplomatic immunity and turn down the interview request or ask him to respond to questions from officials of the Department of Homeland Security.
The involvement of the firm itself has become a knotty legal issue after it was pointed out that it also represents the Government of Sri Lanka.
Gen. Fonseka and his wife Anoma left for the U.S. on October 23. Their visit was originally expected to be partly official. However, the official part of the visit which included an invitation to the U.S. Pacific Command in Hawaii for farewell ceremonies to its commander Admiral Timothy J. Keating, was later withdrawn in the light of the release of the State Department report to Congress.
Last Monday, Gen. Fonseka and his wife took part in religious ceremonies at the Washington Buddhist Viharaya. A meeting that day with U.S. Ambassador to Sri Lanka, Robert Blake, did not materialise reportedly because the Assistant Secretary was ill. Later, Gen. Fonseka and his entourage flew to Oklahoma.