Page last updated at 12:45 GMT, Tuesday, 16 March 2010

General Fonseka appears before Sri Lanka military court

Sarath Fonseka, 8 February 2010
Gen Fonseka denies any wrongdoing

Sri Lanka's ex-army chief Sarath Fonseka has appeared before a military court on charges of participating in politics while in uniform.

The trial was adjourned after defence objections about the proceedings.

But the defeated presidential candidate is due to return to court on Wednesday on separate charges of violating military procurement procedures.

Gen Fonseka says the charges are politically motivated and an attempt to bar him from forthcoming elections.

Protests against his arrest and court martial have been held in Colombo.

The general was arrested by the army last month. He lost presidential elections to incumbent Mahinda Rajapaksa in January.

Gen Fonseka was in charge of Sri Lanka's army when it defeated the Tamil Tiger rebels last year after more than 25 years of civil war. But he and President Rajapaksa fell out over who should take credit for the victory.

Secret trial

A spokesman for the general said the legal team first objected to the judging panel saying that all three military judges were seen to be biased against Gen Fonseka.

Anoma Fonseka: "He was not a man for injustice".

That objection was overruled. The defence subsequently objected to the legality of the entire trial. Proceedings were then adjourned and the trial is set to resume on 6 April - two days before parliamentary polls

Officials have also accused Gen Fonseka of plotting a coup and the assassination of President Rajapaksa - charges he denies - but those accusations will not feature at the court martial.

Reporters have been barred from the trial. Gen Fonseka's wife, Anoma Fonseka said she did not expect justice from the court martial.

"This must be important for people in authority, but for us this is a joke," she is quoted by AFP news agency as saying.

Charles Haviland
Charles Haviland, BBC News, Colombo

Gen Fonseka is charged with having unauthorised contact with two politicians, engaging in political activities while still in the armed forces, and with uttering disloyal words about President Rajapaksa to one of them.

Sunil Watagala, one of his lawyers, told the BBC that they objected to all three major-generals sitting on the panel - one on the grounds that he is the current army chief's brother-in-law; the other two because they might have specific reasons to harbour animosity against the accused as he disciplined them when army chief.

The general pleaded not guilty to all charges - but the lawyers objected again, alleging the panel had no legal jurisdiction over Sarath Fonseka because, they said, he was not subject to military law.

The trials are being held at naval headquarters in the capital, where Gen Fonseka is detained.

He is being tried, completely in secret, by a panel of officers junior in rank to himself, the BBC's Charles Haviland reports from Colombo.

Even the wording of the charges has not been made public, our correspondent says, adding that sources say some 35 witnesses are likely to be called and that Gen Fonseka could face up to five years in jail.

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, Sri Lanka's military spokesman has told the BBC.

Court petitions

Sri Lanka's ex-chief justice, Sarath Silva, has said the court martial is unconstitutional as Gen Fonseka, in his view, is not subject to military law.

Gen Fonseka would have to be tried in a civilian court, he said. There are a number of other court proceedings outstanding.

His supporters have filed a petition with Sri Lanka's Supreme Court arguing that his detention is illegal and that a whole series of his rights are being infringed. But the Supreme Court will not reconvene on this matter until 26 April.

His lawyer also says the Court of Appeal will this Friday hear a habeas corpus petition, lodged by his supporters with the claim that he is not subject to military law.

Ahead of the court martial, Gen Fonseka's Democratic National Alliance party said he would not co-operate with the proceedings, AFP news agency reported.

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