Concerns were raised by the international community today over the arrest of General Sarath Fonseka with the United States fearing it would worsen divisions as the island recovers from war and the UN appealing to both sides to show restraint.
"We are following the situation closely and we have concerns that any action be in accord with Sri Lankan law," State Department spokesman Philip Crowley told AFP.
"There is a tremendous need for the government of Sri Lanka to work to overcome the fissures that exist within its society," he said.
"It has to be very cautious that any actions it takes are designed to heal the split within Sri Lankan society, not to exacerbate it," he said.
Troops on Monday arrested Sarath Fonseka, a former army chief who lost presidential elections two weeks ago.
"Whatever the government does has implications for how democratic institutions are perceived in the future," Crowley said.
"It's an unusual action to take right on the heels of an election," he said of the arrest.
Another official earlier told AFP that US diplomats had been working behind the scenes to encourage President Mahinda Rajapakse's government to be cautious in its treatment of the opposition.
Fonseka holds US residency, although officials said it did not affect their position toward him.
Meanwhile UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon reiterated his appeal to all parties in Sri Lanka and their supporters to show restraint and refrain from violence after the reported arrest of the defeated opposition presidential candidate.
Responding to questions from journalists, a spokesperson for Mr. Ban noted that “the peaceful conduct of the first post-conflict national election and its aftermath is of the highest importance for long term peace and reconciliation in Sri Lanka.”
The Secretary-General is also urging Sri Lankans to adhere to the electoral laws and to avoid provocative acts, not only in the election period, but also during the post-election stage.
Amnesty International meanwhile said the arrest of retired General Sarath Fonseka, Sri Lanka’s former Chief of Army Staff and opposition political candidate in Sri Lanka’s recently held Presidential Election, escalates post-election repression.
"Sarath Fonseka's arrest continues the Rajapaksa government's post election crackdown on political opposition,” said Sam Zarifi, Amnesty International’s Asia-Pacific Director.
“After the military defeat of the LTTE and a major election victory, President Rajapaksa should steer the country toward a better human rights record. Instead, we're seeing less and less tolerance for criticism.”
The timing of the arrest is troubling given reports that Sarath Fonseka had announced earlier in the day that he was prepared to testify before an international court on war crimes charges against the Sri Lanka government, Amnesty International added.
“Allegations of war crimes in Sri Lanka should be subject to an independent international investigation,” said Sam Zarifi.
“Sarath Fonseka was commander of the armed forces during a period when Sri Lanka’s army was accused of violating humanitarian law, including firing heavy weaponry into an area packed with civilians. Fonseka faces credible allegations of war crimes and should also be subject to investigation and accountability,” Amnesty International added. (Daily Mirror online)