Sri Lankan war hero convicted of fraud

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A Sri Lankan military court yesterday convicted the former head of the army of fraud. Sarath Fonseka, who also ran for president, is likely to be given a prison sentence.

Mr Fonseka has already been dishonourably discharged following an earlier court-martial conviction. He has described the prosecutions as a political vendetta and said they were launched to persecute him for daring to challenge President Mahinda Rajapaksa in the presidential election earlier this year.

Critics say the Sri Lankan government is systematically persecuting its rivals as it consolidates its power following the military victory over ethnic Tamil rebels last year.

Government spokesman Lakshman Hulugalla said the court-martial that heard the case against Mr Fonseka has sent its recommendation to the president and the sentence will be announced after his approval. Mr Fonseka was accused of bypassing military procedures in purchasing equipment and involving his son-in-law in the dealings.

The verdict came weeks after Mr Fonseka was stripped of his rank, pension, medals and other military honours after another court-martial convicted him of involvement in politics while in service.

Once allies, President Rajapaksa and General Fonseka were both considered heroes by the Sinhalese majority for crushing the Tamil rebels last year, ending a quarter-century civil war that killed 80,000 to 100,000 people.

But their paths divided months after the war ended and the general quit the army after accusing the President of sidelining him in the belief that he was plotting a military coup. Their relationship further deteriorated after Mr Fonseka challenged Mr Rajapaksa in the presidential election.

Mr Fonseka lost the election in January and was arrested weeks later. He was accused of planning his political career while still in uniform and breaching regulations for purchasing military hardware. He has been detained by the military since then.

In April, while still in detention, Mr Fonseka contested parliamentary elections with the opposition Democratic National Alliance and won a seat, while Mr Rajapaksa's party won a majority.

Last week, Mr Fonseka met reporters in Parliament and said the government is determined to send him to jail and that he won't expect justice from them.

* Three containers filled with explosives meant for road construction detonated yesterday outside a police station in eastern Sri Lanka, killing 25 people, most of them police officers, in a blast government officials called an accident. Military spokesman Major General Ubaya Medawala said he initially feared, incorrectly, that the death toll was as high as 60, in light of the huge damage caused by the blast. Images of the blast on Maharaja Television showed the police station reduced to rubble. It was unclear what triggered the explosion.