Sri Lanka orders release of jailed ex-army chief | News | DW | 20.05.2012
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Sri Lanka orders release of jailed ex-army chief

Sri Lanka's president has ordered authorities to free former army chief Sarath Fonseka. Credited with ending the island's long civil war, Fonseka was jailed in 2010 after challenging the president in elections.

FILE - In this Dec. 16, 2011 file photo, defeated presidential candidate and former army chief Sarath Fonseka gestures as he is escorted by prison guards to a court room in Colombo, Sri Lanka. High Court granted bail for Fonseka on Friday, May 18, 2012, a move seen as a step toward a full pardon for the man credited with ending the country's long civil war but who later was jailed after challenging the president in elections. (Foto:Gemunu Amarasinghe, File/AP/dapd)

Sri Lanka Colombo Sarath Fonseka

Fonseka may leave prison as soon as Monday, an official said on Sunday, after President Rajapaksa signed papers ordering his release.

"[The] President signed the papers on the 18th ... before leaving for Qatar," spokesman Bandula Jayasekera said. "Papers will be sent to the Ministry of Justice on Monday."

Sri Lanka had come under growing pressure from the United States to release Fonseka, who Washington refers to as a political prisoner.

Rajapaksa's move came after Sri Lankan Foreign Minister Gamini Lakshman Peiris met with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in Washington on Friday, where human rights concerns were top of the agenda.

It also coincided with the three-year anniversary of the end of Sri Lanka's bloody 26-year conflict with separatist Tamil Tiger rebels.

Fonseka, 61, is credited with leading the military campaign that led Sri Lanka's army to victory in May 2009. He also encouraged a probe into the alleged deaths of up to 40,000 civilians in the war's final months. Sri Lanka has denied that any civilians were killed by its troops at the climax of the war.

The former four-star general is serving a 30-month jail sentence after a court martial found him guilty of planning a political career while still in the military. He was arrested two weeks after unsuccessfully challenging the president's re-election in January 2010.

In November 2011, he was sentenced to another three years in prison for implicating the defence secretary and president's brother, Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, in war crimes during the conflict.

ccp/tm (AFP, AP)