Tuesday, March 16, 2010

While we're talking civil-military relations...

In many parts of the developing world, it's a pretty bad idea to run for high elective office and lose. No one is experiencing that truth more directly this week than Gen. Sarath Fonseka, hero of the kill-'em-all-and-let-God-sort-'em-out school of COIN.

The former Sri Lankan army chief who lost his opposition bid for the presidency objected Tuesday to his court-martial hearing, saying the panel formed to decide his fate was biased against him, an ally said.

The arrest of Gen. Sarath Fonseka has been condemned by the opposition and human rights groups, who accuse the government of retaliating against a man who dared challenge President Mahinda Rajapaksa in his re-election bid.

The court-martial Tuesday of Fonseka, considered one of the heroes of the government's war against the Tamil Tiger rebels, has been shrouded in secrecy, with the military barring reporters from the event and refusing to release a detailed account of the proceedings.

Military spokesman Major General Prasad Samarasinghe said Fonseka, accompanied by his lawyer, appeared before a three-member panel at the country's navy headquarters to face charges that he prepared the groundwork for his presidential campaign while still in military uniform.

A second charge that Fonseka violated regulations in purchasing military hardware will be taken up Wednesday, he said.

Details of the charges are sort of unclear, but most of the commentary suggests that President Rajapaksa had Fonseka arrested in order to sideline a formidable challenger for power.

Many have been critical of the proceedings and expressed concerns that Rajapaksa is using all the levers of power to quash any opposition to his rule.

"Sarath Fonseka's arrest continues the Rajapaksa government's postelection crackdown on political opposition," said Sam Zarifi, Amnesty International's Asia-Pacific Director.

Apparently the government tossed around a bunch of allegations after Fonseka's arrest last month, including the charge that he had planned to assasinate the president. The fact that this didn't make it into the charging documents is a pretty good sign that the government is making stuff up, I'd expect.

The most interesting thing for me is that Fonseka really wasn't much of a threat, at least not if you go by polling numbers: after quitting the army at the beginning of the year, he got beat by a clear 18% by Rajapaksa in the 26 JAN election.

In related news, the Tamil National Alliance -- the most influential Tamil political party in Sri Lanka -- dropped their demands for an independent Tamil state over the weekend. So there's that. A TNA spokesman was quoted as saying "well, we wanted our own state, but then we got our ass kicked. So now federalism seems cool."

(Ok, no one really said that. But the rest of the story is true.)

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