Prez Sirisena look to war winning general to ‘discipline’ country, Fonseka says...

Prez Sirisena look to war winning general to ‘discipline’ country, Fonseka says yes

Colombo Correspondent,
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Sri Lankan activists lead by Buddhist monks pelt stones with police during a protest in the southern port city of Hambantota on January 7. Photograph: (AFP)

Following Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena asking the war winning Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka, to take the post of Army Commander or Overall Security Forces Commander to “discipline the country” the former army chief, addressing the media in the Colombo suburb of Kelaniya confirmed Thursday that the request had been put to him by the President but said it pertained only in the event of disruption of essential services.

The move is seen as a desperate bid to counter the many strikes and civilian protests on diverse issues that are occurring almost daily in the country.

“I was asked if I could be of assistance and I said yes. The President’s request was approved by the cabinet. At that moment I said that a discussion is needed to draft a mechanism to implement this program. I realize the intentions of the President and expect to fulfill them. I will put “the country first,” Fonseka said adding that trade unions should focus on the welfare of members without being henchmen of political elements with vested interests, the former chief of the army said. Some trade union strikes are generally seen as having the backing of former President Mahinda Rajapaksa who had vowed to topple the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe regime in 2017.

The plea of President Sirisena to Field Marshal Fonseka comes in the wake of strikes and demonstrations by government doctors, students, petroleum workers and civilians on a variety of issues including concerns pertaining to agreements with India, a private medical college and even the disposing of garbage in civilian proximity areas. A few months back there were a spate of protests over the lease of the Southern Hambantota port to the Chinese.

Human rights activists and analysts are however alarmed of a possibility of power getting concentrated in the hands of the military and express disappointment that the government has not been able to handle civilian unrest democratically.

Currently the Regional Development Minister under the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe regime, Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka, who led the army to victory against the Tamil Tiger rebels in 2009, have agreed to the President’s request on condition that ‘proper responsibility and powers’ are given to him, cabinet spokesman Rajitha Senaratne announced Wednesday.

 

Senaratne maintained that the Security Forces are asking Ministers why the government is allowing disruptions to normal life, amidst fears that the ongoing protests would scare off investors as well as tourists.

“The Forces say give us more powers and we will take care of Colombo,” Senaratne stated at Wednesday’s cabinet briefing.

The present regime fears that trade union actions that the country is seeing at present will turn away potential investors when Sri Lanka is battling to manage a debt and balance of payments crisis, seeking desperately to get Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) as a direly needed remedial measure.

The government’s plan to kick off deals with India to get investments in a variety of areas through an Economic and Technical Cooperation Agreement (ETCA) is being vehemently opposed by Lankan professionals such as doctors and those in the Information Technology sector.

Meanwhile India and Sri Lanka have signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on “Cooperation in Economic Projects” during the current visit of the Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe to India. Prime Minister Wickremesinghe is on a 5 day visit to India beginning Tuesday.

Prior to Prime Minister Wickremesinghe’s visit to India, Petroleum workers went on strike demanding the retaking of oil storage tanks leased to the Lanka IOC PLC., Indian Oil’s subsidiary in Sri Lanka in a 2003 agreement.

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