Sri Lankan court opens hearing against ex-army chief

July 29th, 2010 - 6:47 pm ICT by IANS  

Colombo, July 29 (DPA) The Sri Lankan High Court held its first hearing Thursday in a case against the former army chief, charged with bringing disrepute to the government.
General Sarath Fonseka stands accused of claiming that the defence secretary gave the order not to spare surrendering Tamil rebels in the closing stages of the conflict last year.

On the first day of the hearing, the court issued summons to 20 witnesses including an editor of the newspaper which published the comments by Fonseka.

The witnesses were to appear in court Sep 27.

In an interview with the Colombo-based newspaper Sunday Leader, Fonseka claimed Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa told an army brigadier that even officers of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) “surrendering with white flags should not be spared”.

The defence secretary is the brother of President Mahinda Rajapaksa.

Fonseka’s published comments violated emergency regulations as they could incite the public against the government, prosecutors said.

The comments prompted calls from the international community to investigate alleged human rights violations in the weeks leading up to the rebels’ defeat in May 2009.

The UN set up a panel in June, with the objective of advising UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon on how to hold the Sri Lankan government to account over the alleged violations.

In addition to possibility of slain surrendering combatants, the UN estimates that some 7,500 civilians were killed as government forces closed in on the LTTE fighters in the north-east of the country, killing their leader and ending the 26-year-old conflict.

Fonseka led the armed forces during the successful offensive, but fell out with the government after the war.

He lost a presidential election bid against Rajapaksa in January, but was elected to parliament in April.

Fonseka remains in custody, but is allowed to attend parliamentary sittings. He is also facing charges of conspiring with other military leaders against the government during his time as head of army.

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