- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 9, 2010

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka | Sri Lanka’s defeated presidential candidate was hauled from his office by military police Monday and will be court-martialed on charges of planning to overthrow the government while serving as the head of the army.

Sarath Fonseka, who as the top general helped defeat the Tamil Tiger rebels, was forcibly detained after objecting to his arrest, opposition politician Rauff Hakeem said.

Mr. Fonseka and President Mahinda Rajapaksa were once strong allies who combined to end the country’s 25-year civil war in May. But they subsequently fell out, and Mr. Fonseka quit his post. They contested a bitter election last month for the presidency that Mr. Rajapaksa won by 17 percentage points, according to official results.

Even as those votes were counted on Jan. 26, hundreds of government troops surrounded a Colombo hotel where Mr. Fonseka and other opposition leaders had gathered to await the results. He was allowed to leave the building later, but the show of force foreshadowed Monday’s arrest.

Officials have repeatedly accused Mr. Fonseka of plotting to kill Mr. Rajapaksa and overthrow the government with the help of army deserters and former military officers since the election. Mr. Fonseka has called the accusations fabricated and vowed to push on with his political career. A number of serving officers who the government said were considered to be threats to national security have been fired.

Government minister Keheliya Rambukwella said Mr. Fonseka will be tried in a military court on charges of conspiring against the president and planning a coup while army chief.

“When he was the army commander and chief of defense staff and member of the security council, he had direct contact with opposition political parties, which under the military law can amount to conspiracy,” Mr. Rambukwella said.

“He’s been plotting against the president while in the military … with the idea of overthrowing the government,” he added.

Mano Ganeshan, an opposition lawmaker, said Mr. Fonseka was “arrested and forcibly carried away” while having a discussion with a group of political allies.

Mr. Hakeem said Mr. Fonseka objected to being arrested by military police instead of civilian officers, since he was no longer in the military. The officers dragged Mr. Fonseka and his secretary by their hands and legs into their vehicles, Mr. Hakeem said.

Since the Jan. 26 election, Mr. Fonseka complained that the government was attempting to arrest him on trumped-up charges. Last week, security forces raided his office and arrested at least 15 members of his staff.

“We have to ask, ‘Why now? Why not six months ago when he was a military officer?’” said Jehan Perera, an analyst with independent activist group National Peace Council.

“One has to think that it is politically motivated,” Mr. Perera said, adding that a suspected motive was to prevent him from challenging the results of the presidential election or to prevent Mr. Fonseka from leading the opposition in the upcoming parliamentary election.

Mr. Fonseka has vowed to contest that vote, due by April.

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