COLOMBO: Gen.Sarath Fonseka, Sri Lanka’s army chief during the 2006-2009 Eelam War IV, has been made Field Marshal in recognition of the pivotal role he played in defeating the dreaded Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). President Maithripala Sirsena conferred the title on him at a ceremony here on Sunday.
Fonseka is the fourth South Asian General to be made Field Marshal, the others being General Sam Maneckshaw and K.M.Cariappa of India, and Gen.Mohd.Ayub Khan of Pakistan.
Rendering justice to Fonseka was Sirisena’s electoral promise because the General had been dismissed, arrested, tried and sentenced by Courts Martial on trumped up charges, at the instance of the then President Mahinda Rajapaksa.
Fonseka had won laurels for the way he conducted the war against the Tamil Tigers. He abandoned conventional ways, matched the ingenious tactics and strategies of the LTTE, fully utilized the superior numerical strength and fire power of the armed forces, and kept up pressure on the enemy. He broke tradition by insisting on the full deployment of naval and air power to aid the war on land.
Fonseka broke army units into small groups of eight, and made these highly trained and motivated men infiltrate Tiger-held areas, track down the fighting cadres of the LTTE and eliminate them. He transformed the Lankan army from a defensive outfit to an offense force.
However, President Rajapaksa suspected that Fonseka was harboring political ambitions and was planning a coup. He was arrested, tried, sentenced and deprived of his rank, medals and pension. But thanks to international pressure, he was let off before he completed his sentence. He unsuccessfully contested for the Presidency against Rajapaksa in 2010. He entered parliament, but only to vacate his seat on being sentenced. As leader of the Democratic Party, he supported Sirisena in the last Presidential election.
Not all Lankans approve of the decision to make Fonseka Field Marshal. He was not popular in the army. And supporters of Rajapaksa say that other service commanders and former Defense Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa should also have been given equivalent titles.