Retired General Sarath Fonseka on Friday refused to appear before a senior Army officer tasked to record “summary of evidence” – the prelude to a Court Martial – claiming he was now a civilian.
Army Commander, Lt. Gen. Jagath Jayasuriya, assigned his number two, Chief of Staff Maj. Gen. Daya Ratnayake, for this purpose. He was directed to obtain a written “summary of evidence” from witnesses over alleged attempts to overthrow the government, assassinate President Mahinda Rajapaksa and on corrupt military deals.
This was in the presence of Gen. (retd.) Fonseka, who had the legal right to raise questions from the witnesses or cross-examine them. He also had the right, if he so wished, to make an affirmation before Maj. Gen. Ratnayake under oath.
Instead, on Friday, retired General Fonseka, took up the position that he was not subject to military law now since he was a civilian. The “summary of evidence” was to be recorded by Maj. Gen. Ratnayake at the Officer’s Mess at Navy Headquarters (NHQ). This is because Gen. Fonseka is now held in custody in an annexe at the NHQ and would not have to travel outside.
Gen. Fonseka’s refusal to take part in the preliminary Army inquiry has raised a knotty legal issue. The question is what happens if he continues to refuse to co-operate, a source familiar with the ongoing developments told the Sunday Times yesterday.
On Monday night, he was arrested by the Military Police at his office at Rajakeeya Mawatha. On that occasion, Gen. Fonseka refused to leave without the Police and had to be bodily carried into a van. “We are yet to work out the next course of action,” the source said speaking on grounds of anonymity.
Once the inquiry was concluded, Maj. Gen. Ratnayake was to forward the “summary of evidence” to Army Commander Jayasuriya. It is thereafter that charges are to be framed against Gen. Fonseka and a copy handed to him. It is only then that a three-member Court Martial is appointed. The composition of the Court Martial also received consideration of security authorities this week. It is expected to be headed by the acting Chief of Defence Staff and Commander of the Air Force, Air Chief Marshal Roshan Gunathilake.
Since the Court has to comprise officer of the equivalent (or higher) rank than the person under trial, active consideration is now being given to mobilise into service two retired Commanders. One is a former Army Commander and Chief of Defence Staff, General Rohan de S. Daluwatte. Gen. Daluwatte was Commander of the Army from April 1996 to April 1997. He was later Chief of Defence Staff and served a stint as Sri Lankas Ambassador to Brazil.Lt. Gen. Kottegoda served as Commander of the Army from December 2004 to December 2005.