Former Army Commander Gen. (Retd.) Sarath Fonseka`s allegation that he heard from some journalists that Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa had ordered General Officer Commanding Maj. Gen. Shavindra Silva during the final stages of the Vanni offensive to kill the LTTE leaders who wanted to give themselves up, may lack validity as it is based on mere hearsay, but the fact that a former army chief happened to say it has adversely affected the image of the army. There lingers a threat of that allegation, albeit unsubstantiated and veiled, being used against Gotabhaya and Shavindra someday, somewhere.
If such an allegation had come from a lesser person, it could have been dismissed out of hand but the government cannot afford to let a `war crime` allegation which the immediate former army commander is said to have made go uninvestigated.
Some government top guns are arguing that Fonseka may have said what has been attributed to him for the consumption of the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) and the Diasporic Tigers who claim to be able to sway the Tamil voters in the North, in a bid to secure their support. Anything is possible in politics, one may say but we believe that the benefit of the doubt should accrue to Fonseka on this score.
The government is planning to take legal action against Fonseka over the allegation at issue, as Minister Mahinda Samarasinghe told the media on Sunday. Yesterday, a group of lawyers took up the cudgels for the army and the Defence Secretary saying that Fonseka had committed a punishable offence and he could not get away with it by claiming that he had been misquoted by the press.
Fonseka is bound to defend himself and the issue is sure to evolve into a protracted legal wrangle with lawyers representing both the government and the Opposition splitting hair till kingdom come in the event of the government carrying out its threat to sue Fonseka.
What is needed immediately is an opportunity for Maj. Gen. Silva to give his version of the story, which the public would like to know. It will be interesting to know, among other things, why Shavindra, an excellent fighter, whom Fonseka handpicked as GOC to play a pivotal role in the Vanni offensive, fell from grace and incurred the wrath of his former military boss.
Assistant Secretary of State Robert Blake, who was here the other day said that the US did not intend to probe war crime charges against Sri Lanka and the onus was on Sri Lanka to do so itself. No sooner had he said so than Fonseka`s press interview in question stirred up a hornet`s nest.
Looks are deceptive so are sweet words, especially those of suave diplomats. Blake is one of the western diplomats blamed for having launched a human rights witch hunt against Sri Lanka. He and others of his ilk must be watching the situation here from a distance.
Unless the war crime charge at issue is probed immediately and the names of Defence Secretary Rajapaksa and Maj. Gen. Silva are cleared, it is likely to be taken up at a different forum in the future. Gotabhaya and Shavindra will have to live with the stigma attached to war crimes indefinitely. The US government, it may be recalled, sought to interview Fonseka a few weeks ago to ascertain information about the Defence Secretary!