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Top monks demand release of former army chief Fonseka

Text by News Wires

Latest update : 2010-02-14

Leaders of Sri Lanka's Buddhist clergy have joined opposition calls for the immediate release of former army chief and presidential candidate Sarath Fonseka, who was detained by the military last week and faces a court martial.

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 of all key sects as well as the guardians of the island's holiest shrine, the Temple of The Tooth, made a joint appeal to President Mahinda Rajapakse to free Fonseka, who was taken into military custody last week.

"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.

The state-run SLBC radio station reacted by warning the monks against dabbling in politics and becoming an opposition mouthpiece.

Opposition parties praised the "unprecedented" stance taken by the clergy and said they would organise more protests to press for Fonseka's release.

The leftist JVP, or People's Liberation Front, said the former army chief's arrest was politically motivated and had no basis in law.

"We know the arrest is to do with General Fonseka being a presidential candidate and nothing else," JVP general secretary Tilvin Silva said. "We will respond both legally and politically to secure his release."

After falling out with Rajapakse, Fonseka quit the army in November and ran against the president in elections on January 26. Rajapakse won comfortably, and two weeks later Fonseka was taken in by the military.

A spokesman for the monks said they would meet Thursday to decide on further action if Rajapakse failed to respond to their demands.

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.

Date created : 2010-02-14


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