"If they are not denying there is the question. If you asked me if I was involved in a coup, I would say no. If someone was not involved or if such an attempt never took place, he or she could always deny it. The inability to deny leaves a big question mark."
Democratic Party Leader General Sarath Fonseka in a candid interview with the Daily Mirror spoke on his role in the new government, the security situation of the country, the LTTE and on their plans to proceed at the upcoming General Elections. Excerpts:
QWhat is your role in the new government?
I cannot be directly involved in the processes since I am not an MP but am a member of the National Executive Committee, which is headed by the President and the Prime Minister and constituted of various party leaders and representatives including the TNA, SLMC and the JHU. Venerable Sobitha Thera is also due to partake in the committee and I believe former president Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga too will be in the committee soon. We are attending to the directives issued by the President and the PM on matters of national importance including national security, the government’s plans and actions within these 100 days as well as the future agendas of the government.
QYou too have been vocal about the alleged election night coup. But most officials whose names have been linked with the controversy neither accept nor deny the claim?
If they are not denying there is the question. If you asked me if I was involved in a coup, I would say no. If someone was not involved or if such an attempt never took place, he or she could always deny it. The inability to deny leaves a big question mark.
"So, if he thinks that fulfilling the role and duties of a labourer is the way a military man can serve the nation, then he should come and do it himself and set an example by clearing up the drainages here and helping the nation"
QWhat do you think was about to happen on the election night?
According to the information we have, even before Election Day the Army Commander, under the instructions of former President Mahinda Rajapaksa and Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa and the Chief of Defence Staff, had planned something fishy. They got down some 2000 extra troops to Colombo and planned to deploy them in Colombo. This was not carried out under instructions or due to a request made by the IGP or the Elections Commissioner. That means it was definitely done in violation of the law and order in the country. It was a secret, unwanted deployment and the masterminds of the plan had even gone to the lengths of appointing specific officials to specially handle this task.
We heard that if the election results were not going to be in favour of Mahinda Rajapaksa, their plan was to implement the same kind of action, which they did in 2010 that involved detaining the EC and changing the results. This time we heard that even at the very final moments, in the middle of the night, they had been scheming on how to remain in power for two more years without announcing the results.
"From the Chinese point of view, it is eventually that they would want to keep some hold in Sri Lanka and control certain aspects in this country because they have invested so much money in this country. Whatever it is, if the Chinese submarines dock in Sri Lanka it would definitely ruffle the feathers of the Indian authorities and they would not agree with it"
The former regime’s attempts are made clear from the irregular army deployment, which was definitely not done in the interest of the country’s security. Military deployment in that manner during an election day is unnecessary. This is indicative of a definite attempt to stage a coup but finally, since the results were going against them and due to the warnings issued by the international community to refrain from tampering with the results, they took a step back.
The army was in Colombo even for the next two days until the Army Commander was informed to pull them out of Colombo. CBK informed Secretary of Defence to pull the troops out. So obviously it was a conspiracy and nothing else and it was only prevented due to pressures by various quarters that they could not ignore. The Army Commander started feeling jittery and the IGP and the AG too had stood against the plan so the former President had no choice but to disagree.
QAre you saying the Army Commander complied with this alleged coup plan to a certain extent?
He was definitely responsible for the secret deployment of troops. He can’t wash his hands off now. He and the Chief of Defence Staff have to take responsibility for that because they acted in violation of the election law. If you have tried to use the military against the election law, without the consent of the EC, you have definitely planned a military coup. Unlawful military deployment is a military coup.
Q What about the comments that were being made during the election period about additional troops being stationed in the North and East to intimidate the voters and prevent them from voting?
They did not move additional troops but had given certain instructions to obstruct the voting process. They changed the security forces commander in the North before the election and had made plans together with some intelligence officers. We have the details and we shall reveal them at an inquiry in the near future. Together with the intelligence officers they were planning to intimidate the Tamil voters and prevent them from voting.
"If any politician, were to be blamed for any corrupt dealings or offers any type of benefits for committing a violation of the law, then obviously we have to take action against them irrelevant of whether they are in the government or outside"
Q Are you planning to take legal action with this information that you hold?
Complaints regarding this matter have already been made to the IGP but there should be a separate investigation. We believe a commission should be appointed to investigate into these abuses that occurred in the days leading up to the election.
Q In the days leading up to the election, the former regime kept warning that a reemergence of the LTTE would occur if the current President came into power. But their claims, of a possible regrouping, dates months before the election. Was this simply to create a fear psychosis?
Several months ago, a few LTTE suspects were arrested but that was a result of the former regime’s neglect. After I handed over the Army, they should have done the clearing up operations and dealt with the few LTTEers, who were still alive but they were not capable of doing that. But the former regime definitely mollycoddled and kept the LTTE leaders with them including KP, Karuna Amman, Pillaiyan and Emilkanthan without taking any legal action against them.
They dealt with them and made use of them to get the political advantage as and when required. When they wanted to terrorise the people in the North and East, they used them. When they wanted to deal with the diaspora, who were involved with the LTTE - not every Tamil who lives abroad is an LTTEer - they made use of them without any reluctance. So, it was the former regime that dealt with terrorists and terrorist supporters, not us. The terrorists will never come back as long as we are there.
Q So are you saying the threat of a possible LTTE regrouping is real?
The LTTE supporters are still there - some are in Western countries, some are in Tamil Nadu. There may be a couple of politicians in the North and East who are sympathetic to the LTTE, we can’t rule it out. If the situation is mishandled politically and militarily, terrorism can always raise its ugly head again. So, the answer to this question depends on what the political leaders would do.
Q The former regime refused to reduce the heavy military presence in the North citing it would result in a re-emergence of the LTTE. Do you think the number can be reduced?
Yes, I think it can be reduced. Anyway its much lesser than the number that was stationed in the province during the height of the war. They should carry out a redeployment that is effective enough to cater for an eventuality if needed. But obviously the former regime did not plan it out properly. Certain military leaders are having big talks but are not doing anything constructive. That is the issue here.
Q What is your opinion about the Chinese Air/Naval development activities in the country?
We have to ensure the stability of the region. We have to accept that India is the regional power in this region and therefore, we should not try to do things that would irritate them. their security concerns and sentiments should not be rattled because we cannot clash with an regional super-power like India.
From the Chinese point of view, it is eventually that they would want to keep some hold in Sri Lanka and control certain aspects in this country because they have invested so much money in this country. Whatever it is, if the Chinese submarines dock in Sri Lanka it would definitely ruffle the feathers of the Indian authorities and they would not agree with it.
Q The promise was to establish good governance during the campaigns but now so many politicians with corruption allegations have been accepted into the governing side. What is your response to this situation?
If any politician, who has newly pledged support, were to be blamed for any corrupt dealings or offers any type of benefits for committing a violation of the law, then obviously we have to take action against them irrespective of whether they are in the government or outside. This is a short term government and it would continue only for three months and for various particular purposes like the issue of abolishing the executive presidency, they might have collaborated. But we acknowledge that corrupt people have joined and that is a fact.
If they try to control the affairs in the future, then you cannot expect them to change the state of affairs in domestic politics because you cannot expect them to change. They will never change because corruption is genetically imprinted in them. So we have to change the system and keep corrupt politicians away. That is why we have been raising our voices against them and of the importance of establishing a new political culture because we object to corrupt politicians remaining in positions of control.
Q With some of these politicians charged with corruption siding with the new President, can the people expect fair investigations into their charges?
As I said before if there were complaints or allegations they must be definitely taken to task. They have to face the law and the President and the Prime Minister would take action against them. Even for the existence of the government, corrupt politicians should not be spared; people will not agree with that.
Q Will the trend of military personnel being deployed as labourers/construtions workers etc and engaging in business ventures be put to a stop by the current regime?
The military must ensure that they are doing only their professional job. This trend of involving the military in business and using the military personnel as laboureres etc was done to serve the interests of the former President and the Defence Secretary. They involved certain others who were loyal to them and initiated various types of businesses such as providing security; various other projects and even for the sale of vegetables. Such actions are not acceptable because the military should be treated with due respect, their reputation should not be tarnished by getting them to engage in odd jobs here and there.
A soldier should not engage in a labourer’s job because a soldier is not a labourer. Young boys and girls join the military and commit themselves to make a sacrifice for the sake of the nation. The former Defence secretary never realised this. Once, I heard him mention during a TV programme that the military had to engage in these odd jobs because it was a service to the nation. So if he thinks that fulfilling the role and duties of a labourer is the way a military man can serve the nation, then he should come and do it himself and set an example by clearing up the drainages here and help the nation. These statements are reflections of his psyche and that is why he was never happy in the military when he was a serviceman He was unhappy because when he was part of the military, we never allowed him to clean the drainages that was why he left the army.
Q The entire country seems to be on an anti-corruption drive and on exposing details of such corrupt deals. Have you received details of such corrupt actions?
We are getting a lot of information about the former President and his family, relatives and close associates. We receive complaints in large numbers and we have now set up a committee against corruption and through that we will dig into all the details in each and every corner and find out and expose what happened during the past four years.
Q What is the plan put forward for your party at the upcoming general elections?
We will contest separately under our symbol - the torch. Our policies are a little different from the other parties and we are aspiring to a different political culture. Therefore, we will contest separately but after the elections we will decide whether we can support the formation of a government. If we recognize that a party has similar agendas to ours, we will join hands wih them but if not, we will sit in the Opposition.