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"If I allowed that they would have said I was frightened"
Army wanted to arrest Fonseka before election, MR stopped it

President Mahinda Rajapaksa has told one of India’s most influential journalists that the army had wanted to take General (Rtd.) Sarath Fonseka into custody for an inquiry into serious allegations against him but the president had stopped that.

"If at that time I had allowed that, they would have said that I was frightened of this man contesting," the president had told N. Ram, the editor-in-chief of The Hindu, a director of its owning company and a member of the family owning the influential South Indian newspaper.

Rajapaksa has said in the interview at Temple Trees last week that much before the presidential election, intelligence agencies were reporting that Fonseka was working to divide the army and engage himself in activities prosecutable under the Military Act.

The president had said that after the election the army had wanted to "take action for what he had done" and it was up to the army which could go ahead if it had the evidence.

He had also said that the process was slowed down because Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapakse was "very cautious" and did not want any precipitated action against General Fonseka.

The president had made clear that he did not want to get involved in the judicial process saying "if I get involved, army discipline will go for a six."

He had also said that Fonseka was being given "five-star treatment …in a luxury flat," which the present Navy Commander occupied before he assumed command.

"If he (Fonseka) had won, I would have been in Bogambara in a 2 ft. x 2 ft. cell!" the president had said. Ram reported that Fonseka had made this threat during the election campaign.

"Had there been a different election result," President Rajapakse reflected, "there would have been a blood bath… dead bodies everywhere … burnt houses and all that."

Before the election, even government servants were getting threatening letters saying "on January 26, we will be coming for you."

Ram reported that Rajapaksa is confident that the United People’s Freedom Alliance, led by his Sri Lanka Freedom Party, will win the forthcoming parliamentary elections "very comfortably." Asked whether his realistic target was a two-thirds majority, he responded: "I think we will be able to get that, or at least close to that."

Was he willing to enter into constructive cohabitation with the leader of the opposition and former Prime Minister, Ranil Wickremasinghe, in the event of the United National Party doing well? "Oh, no problem but he won’t do that! So the situation won’t arise."

In an interview to The Hindu at Temple Trees in Colombo, the Sri Lankan President responded candidly to questions ranging from the contours of the political solution to the Tamil question he had in mind to the factors behind his 18 percentage point win in the January 26 presidential election, the subsequent arrest of retired general Sarath Fonseka, and India-Sri Lanka relations.

In response to a specific question, Mr. Rajapaksa reiterated his commitment made in the joint statement of May 23, 2009 between the Sri Lankan government and the U.N. "to proceed with the implementation of the 13th Amendment, as well as to begin a broader dialogue with all parties, including the Tamil parties, in the new circumstances to further enhance this process and to bring about lasting peace and development in Sri Lanka."

"The 13th Amendment is in the Constitution," he noted. "I don’t have to say I’m implementing it, because it is implemented in the other areas. The 13th Amendment is implementable at the moment other than the police powers. The land, everything is implementable. We had the presidential election [in the Northern Province] and we are going to have the Provincial Council election after this [the parliamentary election of April 8]. I thought I had to resettle the people [first]. Now there are fewer than 50,000 people in the IDP camps, and many of them don’t want to go."

Sri Lanka’s powerful executive President spelt out the next step: "Soon after these parliamentary elections, I will call all the leaders of the political parties and start talking to them." He had done his best to talk to the leaders of the Tamil National Alliance and the Muslim parties but "they were not interested in solving this problem as long as [Velupillai] Prabakaran was there." But now it was a wholly new ball game: "Now they must understand that there is no option for them but to talk. I’m the President of the country…they must come and negotiate with me, have a dialogue with me. If they think they can’t cope with me, new leaders will come up and I will have to deal with them."

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