Who Is Sarath Fonseka
Has everybody forgotten who Sarath Fonseka really is? Clearly the bankrupt United National Party has. It is this same party and its current leader Ranil Wickremasinghe who accused Sarath Fonseka of the murder of Lasantha Wickrematunge. Today, Wickremasinghe and the UNP are flirting once more with Fonseka hopeful that his colourful track record will help revive an ailing party of chauvinistic stooges.
Wickremasinghe in January 2009 pointed the finger for the assassination of Lasantha (and other crimes) at a team within the military-intelligence wing, albeit one operating independently of government control. “Today it is the opposition and the media who are the targets,” Ranil Wickremasinghe said in the immediate aftermath of the attack on Wickrematunge. “But a similar fate can befall the government and the cabinet tomorrow. I am talking on behalf of the entire House now,” he said.
It is three years to the day since Lasantha was brutally murdered as he drove himself to work on Thursday, January 8, 2009.
Elsewhere on our pages, today, we reproduce in memory of Lasantha, an editorial he carried on October 5, 2008 – three months before he was murdered where he smacked Sarath Fonseka hard for his assertions of Sinhala supremacy. At the time Army Commander, Fonseka told Canada’s National Post newspaper, “I strongly believe that this country belongs to the Sinhalese. But there are minority communities and we treat them like our people.” Gracious of him, you must admit. The Tamil and Muslim communities must be touched.
Fonseka should know better, because he himself – in a supreme act of selfless patriotism – applied to emigrate to the United States, leaving his beloved Sri Lanka and his majority Sinhalese brethren. And you know what? The Americans gave him a Green Card, the technical term for which is – wait for it – a Diversity Visa.
Given that the United States is 74 percent white (just as Sri Lanka is 74 percent Sinhalese), one presumes Fonseka had no qualms about being, according to his own definition, a second-class citizen there.
As this newspaper said in 2008, what the likes of Sarath Fonseka simply do not get is that their parochial world view has gone out of fashion just about everywhere else. The world is becoming an increasingly small place, and one in which diversity is celebrated, not denigrated. That is why that sticker Fonseka has stamped on his passport is called a Diversity Visa. The United States welcomes oddballs – yes, even alien Army Commanders – because they feel it enriches their society. All they need is a secondary education.
I recall Krishantha Cooray then CEO of the Nation newspaper loudly and angrily telling police officers and anyone who would listen that Keith Noyahr his deputy editor abducted and assaulted on May 22, 2008 was cruelly beaten up on the orders of Sarath Fonseka following an exposé Noyahr had written on Fonseka which showed him in a poor light.
Two years after this attack, Cooray was to return from self-imposed exile overseas to support the candidature of Sarath Fonseka for the 2010 presidential election. He continued to back the cause of Fonseka despite Noyahr having had to flee Sri Lanka in fear for his life and that of his young family and being compelled to continue residing overseas too afraid to have to deal with the monster who ordered his assault and near death.
A month later Namal Perera, a journalist with the Sri Lanka Press Institute, was ruthlessly attacked on a busy highway at Kirulapone at 5.30 p.m. as he was being driven home by a close friend – Mahendra Ratnaweera. Both Perera and Ratnaweera suffered knife wounds but the assailants failed in their attempt to abduct him. Perera too was perceived to have fallen foul of Fonseka.
After the presidential election was formally declared The Sunday Leader’s management made a decision that the paper would at an editorial level broadly throw its weight behind Sarath Fonseka’s campaign.
The Rajapaksa administration, by filing multiple law suits against this paper and failing to take real action in the ongoing investigation into Lasantha Wickrematunge’s murder, left The Sunday Leader’s management with no alternative.
Facing devastating court cases The Sunday Leader had no option but to back Fonseka and despite my personal reservations I sympathised with the management’s position and agreed to devote a large amount of page space to the General’s campaign. What happened thereafter does not bear repetition.
What is significant at this juncture – three years after Lasantha was killed is the hypocritical pontificating of Ranil Wickremasinghe having in 2009 accused Sarath Fonseka of the murder of Lasantha Wickrematunge which is recorded in the Hanzard. Even when the forces were recording victory after victory the present UNP leadership belittled such victories calling them names. The UNP was waiting for the forces to get routed in Kilinochchi, as predicted by Prabhakaran, to come out and brag about its political wisdom in not fighting the LTTE. That political wisdom, however, turned out to be a monumental mistake on the part of the present UNP leadership when the forces finally trounced the LTTE in all its fronts including the propaganda front which was patronised even by the UNP.
After having gone through all that and finally when the UNP was reduced to a position where it badly needed some cover to hide its political stupidity they engineered another one of those ‘political master strokes’ to inveigle the heroic but politically immature and egoistic former Army Commander to become its Presidential candidate at the election that it had no hope of winning.
Ranil Wickremasinghe who on Friday January 9, 2009 sat in parliament wearing a red shawl as a gag across his mouth bemoaning the death of Lasantha and the stifling of the free media, has today isolated that same media unable to stomach its insistence that the UNP needs to transform and reform itself and that Wickremasinghe is clearly not the candidate to do the job.
In fact, so bankrupt is the party that the political reality is that the UNP needs to keep the Fonseka factor alive hanging onto what only a party bereft of policy and leadership believes is a trump card. The very man Wickremasinghe accused of killing Lasantha Wickrematunge and who he said was not fit to even command the Salvation Army.
No less than 20 MPs on Friday January 9, 2009 were camped in the well of the House in front of the Speaker’s chair, seated cross-legged and adorned with red and black shawls, calling the government ‘murderers’ over the killing of Lasantha Wickrematunge. Today, none of them will mouth his name.
In fact exactly one month after Lasantha was murdered and the UNP had organised a mammoth funeral, printing banners and posters denouncing the government for his killing, not a SINGLE one of them – not even those who professed to be his closest friends in the UNP attended a candlelight vigil by his grave on February 8, 2009. Within one month he was forgotten. No longer useful for the UNP to score brownie points.
I recall the words of D. B. S. Jeyaraj when he wrote in May 2009, “the United National Party in Sri Lanka has neither been United nor truly national in recent times. Given the internal turmoil and external unpopularity some feel it may soon cease to be even a party.” How very prophetic and true.
On Lasantha’s third death anniversary I also recall the words of Mangala Samaraweera. In 2009, Samaraweera was the Sri Lanka Freedom Party People’s Wing leader. Following Lasantha’s assassination he said that Wickrematunge had an audio recording of a confession made by one of the members of the killer squad led by the ‘Ugly American’ and a court injunction against Wickrematunge was obtained to prevent him revealing those facts. Addressing a press conference of joint opposition MPs, Samaraweera charged that the same persons assassinated Wickrematunge.
Wickrematunge was known for taking governments of all hues to task. He was a harsh critic of the Mahinda Rajapaksa government, and had been locked in a legal battle with the president’s brother, Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa who was spearheading the battle against the LTTE, a terrorist group as designated by the US State Department.
Coming after numerous killings of anti-government and other journalists such as P. Devakumaran (stabbed May 2008), Sampath de Silva (shot April 2006), Taraki Sivaram (abducted near police station, 2005) – the murder of such a prominent journalist and political figure was widely condemned across the world. The Editors Guild held the government responsible for the killing as it has failed to stop attacks against media personnel. The government also expressed shock at the killing, pledging to do everything in its power to catch his killers.
Wickrematunge had been on Amnesty International’s endangered list since 1998, when anti-tank shells were fired on his house.
Despite intense media pressure, no one has been arrested as of January 2012. It is clear that the murder investigation may end up as a cover-up, and that safeguards for an independent media appear bleak.