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Fonseka flees America before war crimes interview

Sri Lankan Chief of Defense Staff General Sarath Fonseka fled the United States, hours before he was due to attend a meeting with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to discuss allegations of war crimes against Gotabhaya Rajapaksa.

 

According to Fonseka and other Sri Lankan officials, the DHS contacted the general on October 28 during his trip to the U.S. to visit his daughters, who live in Oklahoma.

 

Fonseka, who holds a U.S. green card permanent-residency certificate, was asked to show up for an interview on November 4. But hours before the interview was due to take place, Fonseka flew out of the US, thereby avoiding meeting.

 

In the Sri Lankan parliamnent, this was portrayed as the actions of a partriotic citizen.

 

“In the same way this brave soldier rid the country of terrorism, he is now on his way home without betraying the nation,” AFP quoted Samantha Vidyaratne as telling the Sri Lankan parliament.

 

Earlier, in a letter to the Sri Lankan Embassy in Washington, Fonseka said he had been asked by United States officials to be a ‘source’ against Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa.

 

Two US officials from the DHS had reportedly made the request from Fonseka on his son-in-law’s telephone line, the Daily Mirror newspaper reported.

 

Fonseka said one of the officials had asked him whether he was prepared to be a ‘source’ against the ‘Defence Minister’ of Sri Lanka. Fonseka had responded by asking him whether whom he meant was the President, who is the Defence Minister, the Daily Mirror reported.

The official had then told him he had meant Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, to which Fonseka allegedly replied that he was the Defence Secretary and not the Defence Minister.

 

This conversation had been followed with a formal request by the Department of Homeland Security for a ‘voluntary meeting’ with Fonseka.

 

Later Sri Lanka’s ambassador to the US, Jaliya Wickramasuriya, had retained lawyers from a leading law firm to ‘assist’ the military commander.

 

Given that Fonseka is only a US green card holder and not a US citizen yet, the US authorities only have the powers to question him over matters relating to his prospective US citizenship and not human rights violation.

 

This is however not the case for Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, who holds US citizenship.

 

The Sri Lankan government claimed responsibility for facilitating Fonseka’s departure from the US.

 

“We facilitated General Fonseka's early departure ahead of his Wednesday meeting with the DHS,” Rohitha Bogollagama told Reuters.

 

“General Fonseka is a high-ranking public official and our position is that he cannot be used as a source against another high ranking official. That's incriminating".

 

Separately reports confirmed that Gotabhaya Rajapaksa was questioned by US immigration authorities on his arrival in the US as a member of the Sri Lankan delegation attending the UN General Assembly earlier this year.

 

“This was not revealed to the media at that time.  However, our Defence Secretary has been questioned for one hour by some US immigration officials on his arrival in the country,” National Freedom Front (NFF) leader Wimal Weerawansa told reporters.

 

“Nevertheless, they have no right to question him on human rights issues. Now, these foreign forces appear to have renewed their conspiracy to hound the political and military leaders who led this war to a successful completion. They are trying to use General Fonseka for this purpose,” the Daily Mirror newspaper quoted him as saying.

 

"It happened and I was there," Bogollagama said of the Rajapaksa interview. "We took all the necessary actions that were required."

 

In the U.S., the DHS's office of Immigration and Custom Enforcement (ICE), which reportedly made the Fonseka request, refused to confirm or deny the allegation.

 

“If there was an investigation, there's nothing we can provide. Especially in cases that are very sensitive under human-rights violations, until that person or group were fully investigated [we] would never comment,” ICE spokesman Brandon Alvarez-Montgomery was quoted as saying by Time magazine.

 

Fonseka is known to have made some public remarks about the war in Sri Lanka, that could have drawn the attention of the UD officials.

 

At an event in Ambalangoda, Sri Lanka, Fonseka was quoted as telling the audience that “the military had to overlook the traditional rules of war and even kill LTTE rebels who came to surrender carrying white flags during the war against the LTTE.”

 

Similarly, at a speech at a Buddhist temple in the United States, Fonseka is reported to have said: “We must deploy enough troops to provide security for these [resettled] areas. We must in these areas, this virus, there are still 1000’s of terrorists in IDP camps. We must identify these terrorist and destroy them. We must take them into custody and then resettle them. We must provide security in strength to these areas. I will only be happy that we finished the war we ended when I see this.”

 

The US government had initially invited Fonseka to attend an event to farewell Commander Admiral Timothy J. Keating during his visit. But this invitation was withdrawn once the US State Department filed its report into the concluding days of the war in Sri Lanka, which reported numerous allegations that might amount to war crimes.

 

 

"[T]he US action to request meeting does not augur well for Mr Fonseka's legal future in the US,” a representative for Tamils Against Genocide (TAG) told TamilNet.

 

“Private plaintiffs are ready to file law-suits against Mr Fonseka under existing US tort statutes, if his sovereign immunity is found to be non-enforcable. When the General relinquishes his military office in Sri Lanka, he will shed the sovereign immunity, and will expose himself to legal action in the US," the TAG representative said.

 

TAG is a US based pressure group that filed a model indictment with the Justice Department against Fonseka and Gotabhaya Rajapakse, and is continuing to collect evidence, including Satellite evidence, for war crimes against Sri Lanka.