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    Retiring Sri Lankan General Contends Government Politicians Planted Coup Rumors

    In his 2,200-word retirement request General Sarath Fonseka says he was misled about his promotion this year to Chief of Defense staff, finding that he had "basically no authority."

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    Sri Lanka's President Friday gave the country's top military figure permission to leave his post immediately, a day after the Army General submitted retirement papers to his commander-in-chief.

    In his 2,200-word retirement request General Sarath Fonseka says he was misled about his promotion this year to Chief of Defense staff, finding that he had "basically no authority."

    There is intense speculation that Fonseka, who is saying he will continue to serve his country, will soon challenge President Mahinda Rajapaksa in an election. 

    The general, credited with leading his troops to victory over the Tamil Tiger rebels, in his letter to Mr. Rajapaksa, accuses senior government politicians of spreading rumors about him being a "traitor." He is referring to reports that the Army was planning a coup following the end of the 25-year-long civil war.

    General Fonseka, in the letter, says Sri Lanka asked India on October 15 to place troops on alert in case they would be needed to intervene to foil a coup on the island.

    A veteran Indian Army intelligence officer, retired Colonel Ramani Hariharan, in Chennai tells VOA News there has been anxiety in India about what he calls Sri Lanka's "unwieldy" military.

    "That had been a matter of concern for not only Sri Lanka's government but all the areas around - 300,000 armed men in such a small island after the war," the colonel said. "It would be a potential threat to sort of a democratic government. So the government of India is capable of responding." 

    Indian peacekeeping forces were invited to the Tamil north of the Sinhalese-dominated island nation by Colombo in 1987. India's soldiers withdrew in humiliation three years later after failing to neutralize the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam.

    Retired Indian Army Major General Dipankar Banerjee, dismisses worries of a potential coup and Indian re-intervention, but says Fonseka may desire to use the latter possibility for political currency.

    "Indian-Sri Lankan relations are very good. And [Sri Lankan] military expansion or capability poses no threat to India," Banerjee said. "But Sarath Fonseka would play onto the sentiments within Sri Lanka, trying to play up the Indian military threat to Sri Lanka, in order to gain popularity within his own country."

    Both the president and the general are highly popular figures in wake of the victory over the Tamil rebels.

    In his request to be relieved of duty, General Fonseka asked the president to allow him to keep a security detail, including trained combat soldiers, and a bullet proof vehicle, saying the defeated rebels are yet capable of trying to kill him.

    Fonseka, in 2006, survived an assassination attempt when a suicide bomber attacked his motorcade.


    Steve Herman

    A veteran journalist, Steve Herman is VOA's Southeast Asia Bureau Chief and Correspondent, based in Bangkok.

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