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President promptly accepts Fonseka’s resignation

President Mahinda Rajapaksa yesterday accepted Chief of Defence Staff General Sarath Fonseka’s resignation letter. Accordingly, Gen. Fonseka will cease to be CDS with effect from Dec. 01, 2009.

Gen. Fonseka informed the President of his desire to resign at a one-to-one meeting on Wednesday, where they were expected to iron out their differences. Cordial as the meeting was, President Rajapaksa said he had no objections to Gen. Fonseka’s resignation or his decision to enter politics. "I have instructed my Secretary to accept you resignation letter immediately, should you tender it," the President told Gen. Fonseka.

After the meeting while Gen. Fonseka was walking towards the door, according to highly placed sources, a smiling President Rajapaksa said, "Sarath, you can always come back to me after your defeat in politics."

Sources said Gen. Fonseka had smiled and proceeded.

Gen. Fonseka’s resignation came hot on the heels of the UNP-led Opposition’s call that the CDS should wait till the President announced a snap presidential election at the SLFP Convention on Sunday (Nov. 15), to resign.

Gen. Fonseka’s letter is said to contain 17 reasons for his decision to call it quits.

A senior spokesman for the President’s Office confirmed that the President had accepted General Fonseka’s resignation. He told The Island that General had indicated that he would like to leave his uniform within the next few weeks.

General Fonseka told The Island yesterday evening that copies of his letter of resignation had been handed over to Secretary to the President Lalith Weeratunga and Secretary to the Defence Ministry Gotabhaya Rajapaksa. Declining to comment on the possibility of his immediate entry into politics, General Fonseka said that he expected the President to accept his resignation.

During a recent visit to the Washington Buddhist Viharaya, the General said that he was ready to shed his uniform to do ‘what was required in a post-LTTE era’. A section of the Buddhist clergy urged him to remain in uniform and not to enter politics.

A senior government official told The Island that the CDS wanted his resignation effective December 1, 2009. He said that as long as General Fonseka held the post, the government expected him not to engage in politics.

Responding to our queries, government sources said that the President could appoint one of the service commanders, in this case Air Force Commander Air Marshal Roshan Goonetilike, to act as the CDS during the period originally given to General Fonseka.

The first Sinha Regiment officer to command the Army, Gen. Fonseka spearheaded Sri Lanka’s successful war against the LTTE before being promoted to the rank General and appointed CDS. The army waged its final battle on the banks of the Nanthikadal lagoon, where troops killed LTTE leader Velupillai Prabhakaran and his top commanders on May 18.

Gen. Fonseka’s resignation came in the wake of a spat over who should be in charge of security at the army headquarters. There had been a dispute among some of the top brass regarding the deployment of the Armoured Corps in place of the Sinha Regiment, though it was customary for the serving commander’s unit to be in charge of security.

Although it was expected initially that theUNP-led United National Front (UNF) would unconditionally accept Gen. Fonseka as the Opposition’s common candidate, UNP and Opposition Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe put forth several conditions for endorsing his candidature on Nov. 09. The UNP’s conditions as spelt out by Wickremesinghe in an interview with the Tamil publication, the Sudar Oli. He called for the appointment of a caretaker government with him( Wickremesinghe) as the Prime Minister in the event of his (Fonseka’s) election.

Wickremesinghe said the United National Front, the JVP and the Tamil National Alliance should be agreeable to Gen. Fonseka’s candidature. He said he expected Gen. Fonseka to clarify certain issues concerning the Tamil people and the Tamil National Alliance should endorse that General Fonseka’s clarifications were acceptable to the Tamils.

The UNP leader said that he expected the common candidate to fulfil certain other obligations and make some pledges in public regarding the abolition of the executive presidency and the resettlement of IDPs.

Wickremesinghe demanded that General Fonseka make a prior announcement that he would assign important portfolios to the JVP and TNA in the proposed caretaker government. Fonseka should pledge that he would do away with the Emergency Regulations and ensure the full implementation of the 17th Amendment.

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