Former Sri Lankan army chief released from jail | News | DW | 21.05.2012
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Former Sri Lankan army chief released from jail

The former chief of Sri Lanka's army has been freed from prison after serving only a part of his sentence. His presidential pardon comes amid US pressure to release him as a political prisoner.

Sri Lanka's ex-army chief Sarath Fonseka was released on Monday after spending more than two years in prison following his challenge to the president's re-election in 2010.

"I am free. I will devote my life for my people," Fonseka shouted after leaving the Welikada prison in Colombo.

His release came by order of President Mahinda Rajapaksa, who granted the pardon before leaving on an official visit to Qatar on Saturday night.

The 61-year-old Fonseka, who led an army victory over separatist Tamil Tiger rebels three years ago, was arrested after unsuccessfully challenging Rajapaksa in presidential elections in January 2010.

He was detained on a charge of corruption relating to military procurements shortly after the elections and given a 30-month jail sentence in September 2010.

Whistle-blower?

In November 2011, he was sentenced to three more years in jail for saying that the president's brother, Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, who is defense secretary, had ordered the killing of Tiger rebels who had surrendered.

Fonseka also angered the government by saying he was ready to testify to any international tribunal investigating possible war crimes committed during the last months of Sri Lanka's decades-long civil war.

The United Nations says thousands of civilians were killed in this period, a charge the Sri Lankan government denies.

Up to 100,000 people died in ethnic bloodshed in Sri Lanka from 1972 to 2009.

US pressure

Washington regarded Fonseka as a political prisoner and US officials had called repeatedly for his release. Fonseka himself also says his imprisonment was politically motivated.

Official sources say the present pardon only cancels out the sentence and that Fonseka may not be allowed to participate in elections for seven years after his release. Government spokesmen have, however, hinted that a full pardon may yet be granted.

The party he founded to contest the 2010 general elections, the Democratic National Alliance (DNA), retains just three seats in the 225-member parliament.

tj/ncy (AFP, dpa, AP)