Page last updated at 15:45 GMT, Thursday, 11 March 2010

Sri Lanka's General Fonseka goes on trial next week

Gen Fonseka
Gen Fonseka has fallen out with the Sri Lankan president Rajapaksa

The Sri Lankan military has announced it is putting defeated presidential candidate and former army chief Gen Sarath Fonseka on trial next week.

The general faces court martial proceedings on charges of engaging in politics while in uniform and also for breaking army procurement rules.

Gen Fonseka was arrested after he lost January's election to the incumbent President, Mahinda Rajapaksa.

He denies any wrongdoing and intends to stand in April's parliamentary poll.

But it is not clear whether he would be able to contest the election if he were found guilty of any of the charges.

Proceedings are set to start on Tuesday 16 March at the naval complex were he is being detained.

'Climate of fear'

Sri Lanka's military spokesman told the BBC that he expected the initial trial to be "over very soon". He also said that Gen Fonseka can have his own lawyers present at the court martial and can appeal to the higher civilian courts if he is found guilty.

Officials have also accused Gen Fonseka of plotting a coup and the assassination of President Rajapaksa - charges he denies.

Sri Lanka's military spokesman told AFP news agency the police were conducting a separate investigation into those allegations.

Gen Fonseka's supporters have said that the court martial is politically motivated. His lawyers have challenged his detention in the Supreme Court but the next hearing is not until late April.

The trial announcement comes as an international journalism lobby group says media workers in Sri Lanka have been living in a "climate of fear" since President Rajapaksa's re-election.

But the US-based Committee to Protect Journalists also adds the government's chief legal officer is appealing to exiled journalists to return, offering them protection.

The government has long denied victimising media workers.

Gen Fonseka was in charge of Sri Lanka's army when it defeated the Tamil Tiger rebels last year after 25 years of civil war.

But he and President Rajapaksa fell out over who should take credit for the victory - and both fought the presidential election boasting of their roles in the war.

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