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Page last updated at 17:18 GMT, Thursday, 12 November 2009

Sri Lanka military chief resigns

In this picture taken on July 15, 2009, Sri Lanka"s new Chief of Defence Staff, General Sarath Fonseka assumes office

Sri Lanka's armed forces chief Gen Sarath Fonseka has resigned from his post just months after helping secure the defeat of the Tamil Tiger rebels.

Gen Fonseka is reportedly considering challenging President Mahinda Rajapaksa in an election to be held before April. He is due to make a speech shortly.

The resignation was swiftly accepted by the president, a political source told the BBC on condition of anonymity.

Speculation of a rift between the two men has been rife in recent months.

The BBC's Charles Haviland in Colombo says the general has been in talks with Sri Lanka's opposition coalition about the possibility of his running for president against Mr Rajapaksa.

Opposition politicians say that resigning from his post as army chief would clear the way for him to stand as a presidential candidate.

Some of them say they do not support the general's politics but cannot think of anyone else who could beat President Rajapaksa.

But in an interview with BBC Tamil, Gen Fonseka said that as long as he remained in uniform, he would not comment on his future plans or on the reports that he intended to enter politics.

Nor would he say why he was quitting the post of armed forces chief of staff 18 months early.

"I have said I am retiring from the end of November," he said.

"I retire with some reasons. Retirement is not a very good thing, not a very happy thing. So that's all I can say now."

Sinhalese nationalist

Two months after leading the army to victory in the civil war, Gen Fonseka was promoted from army chief to armed forces chief, a new position viewed as largely ceremonial.

Our correspondent says that there have been reports that the general was unhappy with his treatment after his promotion and used his speeches to stress the army's role in defeating the Tamil Tigers in May.

The government has warned against military men entering politics.

I am retiring. That's all I can say at the moment
Gen Sarath Fonseka

Gen Fonseka told BBC Tamil that "wiping out the LTTE [Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam]" was the crowning achievement of his 40-year military career.

Correspondents say the general has a reputation as a strong Sinhalese nationalist.

In a Canadian newspaper interview last year he was quoted as saying that "this country belongs to the [majority] Sinhalese" although minorities must also be treated "like our people".

Both the government and Gen Fonseka have denied rumours of differences between him and the civilian leadership.

"I know my name is mentioned everywhere," the general told reporters in Colombo in relation to his rumoured presidential ambitions.

"But, the authenticity regarding those reports should be verified from the people who wrote them."

Earlier this month, the government asked the general to shorten his visit to the US after moves by the Department of Homeland Security to question him over alleged human rights abuses by President Rajapaksa's younger brother, Gotabhaya, the Sri Lankan defence secretary.



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