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Sri Lanka’s war hero runs for president

Sri Lanka’s war hero runs for president

Colombo: The Sri Lankan general who oversaw the end of 25 years of war said on Sunday he will run for president, pitting himself against the man who also takes credit for the victory against Tamil Tiger rebels.

Army veteran Sarath Fonseka quit the military after a 34-month offensive, accusing President Mahinda Rajapaksa of sidelining him over unfounded coup fears.

He could now split Rajapaksa’s support base and win over the votes of Sri Lankans happy the conflict is over. “I have decided to contest in the presidential poll as a common candidate of the opposition parties, on their request," Fonseka, the former chief of defence staff, told reporters. “Sri Lanka suffered violence at the hands of terrorists and has been suffering too long. Now we have done away with the terrorism. But now you can’t leave the country in the hands of a dictator."

He criticised the government’s record on corruption, media freedom, democracy, resettlement of the war displaced, the peace dividend and law and order, areas which opposition and Western nations have also said Rajapaksa has done too little. The elections are scheduled for 26 January.

“We have to ensure good governance. I been selected (for) politics with reluctance and I will ensure the democracy is re-established."

Fonseka will contest in a united opposition backed by the pro-business United National Party and the Marxists Janatha Vimukthi Peremuna.

Although a war hero, Fonseka is not without his critics including those in the army who say he has shown a ruthless, win-at-all costs mentality throughout his career.

A US State Department report into possible war crimes at the end of the war said some officers had questioned whether their orders could have violated humanitarian law.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security asked to question Fonseka when he visited his daughters in Oklahoma this month, but Sri Lanka protested and Fonseka left without being interviewed.

The 39-year army veteran was given nearly unbridled power as he prosecuted the war in tandem with his former comrade-in-arms, defence secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa, the president’s brother.

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