Sri Lanka President to Free Ex-Army Chief

Posted May 20th, 2012 at 4:10 am (UTC-5)
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Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa has ordered the release of the country's former army chief and opposition leader, Sarath Fonseka.

President Rajapaksa signed the papers Saturday ordering Fonseka's release. The papers will be sent to the justice ministry Monday.

The president's release order for his political rival came after Sri Lanka's foreign minister met in Washington Friday with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. The two discussed the island's human rights record. Washington has called Fonseka a political prisoner.

The terms of Fonseka's release were not immediately clear.

Fonseka is serving a 30-month prison sentence for arms procurement offenses. The former general is also serving a three-year sentence for making false allegations about the defense secretary in a 2009 newspaper interview, a conviction that cost him his parliamentary seat.

Fonseka says the cases against him were politically motivated because he challenged Mr. Rajapaksa in the presidential election.

Fonseka is widely credited with defeating Tamil Tiger rebels in May 2009 after the 25-year civil war. Both Fonseka and President Rajapaksa were hailed as heroes by Sir Lanka's majority Sinhalese, but the two men soon parted ways over political ideology.

Fonseka then quit the army and made an unsuccessful run for the country's presidency.