Colombo: A Sri Lankan military court on Friday stripped the country's war hero and former Army chief Sarath Fonseka of his rank and medals after finding him guilty of dabbling in politics, while in service.
The 59-year-old General was convicted by the first court martial against him, which began deliberations five months back. He faces another military court on charges of corruption in defence deals.
The three-member military court ruled that the General, who is now a Parliamentarian, be "cashiered," which means he will be stripped off his rank, medals and decorations won during his 40-year long span in the Sri Lankan Army.
The sentence of dishonourable discharge from rank has to be ratified by President Mahinda Rajapaksa in his capacity as the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed forces.
"Although he has been convicted, the punishment is subject to the approval of the Sri Lankan President," a source told PTI.
The military court pronounced the judgement in the absence of Fonseka's lawyers as they had told the court that they would not attend the proceedings during the current court vacation and would be present only from next week.
Fonseka is currently an MP from the opposition Democratic National Alliance party though he remains under arrest. His supporters allege that these accusations are politically motivated.
Fonseka has the right to appeal the verdict in a civilian court.
The General is also being tried by another court martial on corruption in deals to procure military equipment for the Army.
As a battlefield commander, Fonseka has been hailed by Lankan media as the architect of the country's decisive military victory over the Tamil Tigers after a 37-year long insurgency.
Fonseka was once close to President Rajapaksa and the two fell apart when he challenged him in the Presidential election race.
The veteran General has been publicly charged by the ruling party leaders of plotting a coup, though no such formal charges have been brought against him.
Fonseka has also been hauled up in civilian courts on other charges, which his supporters describe as a 'witch-hunt'.
He was taken into military custody shortly after he lost the Presidential election in January.
His Democratic National Alliance rejected his sentencing, saying that the court martial was flawed from the beginning.
"He could not be charged before a court martial after he retired from the Army," the DNA spokesman Anura Kumara Dissanayake said.
He also charged that Fonseka's lawyers were not present when the verdict was delivered and some witnesses cross-examined.
International rights groups have sharply criticised the continued detention of the former Army chief and condemned the use of closed door military courts to try him instead of civilian courts.
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