COLOMBO (AFP) – Leaders of Sri Lanka’s influential Buddhist clergy backed opposition demands Sunday for the immediate release of former army chief and defeated presidential candidate Sarath Fonseka. Top monks representing four sects made a joint appeal to President Mahinda Rajapakse to free Fonseka who was arrested last Monday by the military on unspecified charges of conspiring against the government.
“Under no circumstances can we endorse the arrest of … a war hero who delivered the country from the clutches of terrorists,” the monks said in a letter to Rajapakse, a copy of which was seen by AFP.
As the battlefield architect of the victory over the Tamil Tiger rebels last May, Fonseka was feted for finally crushing their 37-year campaign for an independent Tamil homeland.
After falling out with Rajapakse, he quit the army in November and ran against the president in elections on January 26. Rajapakse won comfortably, and two weeks later Fonseka was arrested.
A spokesman for the monks said they would meet Thursday to decide on further action if Rajapakse failed to respond to their request for Fonseka’s release.
The president has denied any link between the arrest and the presidential polls, and stressed that “no one was above the law”.
In a meeting with opposition leader Ranil Wickremesinghe, Rajapakse vowed that Fonseka would be accorded all “due process.” The former army chief is to be court-martialled rather than tried in a civilian court.
Sri Lanka’s Supreme Court said Friday it would hear a petition submitted by Fonseka’s wife, calling for his arrest to be ruled illegal.
The court was scheduled to reconvene February 23 for a further hearing.
Fonseka’s detention has triggered violent protests in Colombo and other parts of Sri Lanka and drawn expressions of concern from the United States, European Union, the United Nations and several other countries.