B. Muralidhar Reddy

Several senior officers forced out; reshuffle in the top order

COLOMBO: An alleged coup attempt by defeated presidential candidate retired General Sarath Fonseka has reportedly prompted Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa to undertake a major purge in the top echelons of the military.

According to senior government officials, at least a dozen senior serving military officers, including three Major- Generals, are being sent out on compulsory retirement.

A senior official who did not want to be named told The Hindu that the military officers being sent home were part of a “conspiracy” by General (retired) Fonseka, along with a number of former officers and soldiers who were army deserters.

Hours after the counting in the presidential election started on January 26, the retired General had moved into a local hotel citing security reasons. Three days later, the government charged him with attempting to overthrow the President and punish several of his family members.

At a news conference on Saturday, General (retired) Fonseka had strongly refuted the allegation levelled against him while conceding that a number of army officers had given him inside information during his campaign. “The information given by these officers pertained to efforts by the campaign managers of Mr. Rajapaksa to defame and assassinate me,” he had said.

The government has so far not released any details of the coup attempt by the former Army chief-turned-politician on the plea that investigations were still on and information was still being collected on the basis of testimonies of the former army officers and soldiers taken into custody from the Fonseka camp.

The episode involving the top echelons of the Sri Lankan military has strengthened apprehensions that the military has been politicised like never before.

On Sunday the President announced a major re-shuffle in the army at the top level. Although these were described as routine transfers, observers see a Fonseka link to it. Many of the officers who have been transferred, including the Chief of Defence Staff Mendaka Samarasinghe, were considered close to the retired General. Major-General Daya Ratnayake has been appointed as the new Chief of Staff of the Sri Lanka Army.

Devolution

Meanwhile, Tamil National Alliance leader R. Sampanthan and the leader of the Sri Lankan Muslim Congress Rauff Hakeem on Monday charged the government with indulging in electoral malpractices. They also said it was time for “introspection and retrospection” by the ruling regime in the Northern and the Eastern provinces.

Mr. Sampanthan said given the context of the war, Mr. Rajapaksa must fulfill his promise of “maximum possible devolution to the provinces without compromising the national sovereignty”.