Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Sri Lanka mulls freeing jailed ex-army chief

The government of Sri Lanka is considering giving a pardon to the jailed former army chief and defeated presidential candidate Sarath Fonseka. The pardon may happen soon since the country's foreign minister is scheduled to meet US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Friday.

Sri Lankan authorities are mulling a pardon for jailed former army chief and defeated presidential candidate Sarath Fonseka amid international calls for his release, an official said Tuesday.

President Mahinda Rajapakse was likely to consider freeing Fonseka who is serving two jail terms over two separate cases -- one ordered by a military court martial and one by a civilian court, an official close to the president said.

"A pardon could be issued around the time when the foreign minister (G. L. Peiris) is in Washington," said the official, who declined to be named.

He was referring to a meeting Peiris is to hold with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Friday.

The US regards Fonseka a political prisoner and has repeatedly urged Colombo to release him. Sri Lankan opposition parties treat him as a war hero.

Fonseka's wife, Anoma, said she was aware of moves to secure his release, but had no official word from the authorities.

"I have not been formally informed of an imminent release," Anoma Fonseka told AFP. "I welcome moves to free him, but want to make it clear that my husband will never ask for a pardon."

Last week Fonseka, a retired four-star general, was taken out of prison and into a private hospital for treatment for a respiratory problem. His lungs were affected in a suicide bomb attack he survived in April 2006.

He lost the January 2010 presidential election to Rajapakse after quitting the army to enter politics.

He fell out with the government over who should take credit for crushing Tamil Tiger rebels in May 2009.

He also angered the government by saying he would willingly testify before any international tribunal probing possible war crimes charges after the United Nations said thousands of civilians perished in the final battles.

Two weeks after losing the election to Rajapakse, Fonseka was arrested on a charge of corruption relating to procurements when he was army chief between 2005 and 2009. He was given a 30-month sentence in September 2010.

In November last year, the High Court sentenced him to three more years in jail for his remarks that Tiger rebels who surrendered had been killed on the orders of the president's defense secretary brother Gotabhaya Rajapakse.

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