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18 March, 2010 - Published 13:14 GMT

Charles Haviland
BBC Colombo

Pardon for Fonseka ruled out

President Mahinda Rajapaksa ruled out intervening to pardon his defeated presidential rival and former ally, General Sarath Fonseka, who’s currently on trial by the army. He firmly ruled out a federal solution to address the country’s ethnic divide, just days after the largest Tamil party came out in favour of federalism, dropping the Tamil Tigers’ old demand for an independent Tamil homeland. .

Speaking to the Singapore-based Straits Times, President Rajapaksa described Sarath Fonseka as a “fool” who himself had put thousands of soldiers on trial.

He said the law must apply to everyone and the process of trying the retired general must not be interrupted.

JVP Factor

Asked about the defeated Tamil Tigers or LTTE, Mr Rajapaksa said their movement was not finished and that trained suicide bombers still existed. But, he added, the threat was not only from them; as he put it, there was also “the JVP and the Fonseka factor” to consider. It was not clear exactly what he meant. But the JVP, the main party backing General Fonseka, was a militant group 20 years ago.

The president completely ruled out having a federal system to give Tamil-majority areas more autonomy. He said federalism would mean separation and asserted that Tamil people wanted houses and schools rather than constitutional changes. Sarath Fonseka denies the charges of plotting and financial irregularity brought against him.

This week the British-based commercial station, Channel 4 News, said General Fonseka, in a letter smuggled from detention, had appealed to Sri Lankans to help obtain his release from what he called “the clutches of tyranny, corruption and nepotism” Campaigning is well under way for next month’s general election. General Fonseka is standing despite being detained. President Rajapaksa is confident of victory having won re-election as president and with his rival under arrest.