After winning the war, Sarath Fonseka seems to have lost the battle. The former chief of Sri Lanka's army chose to run against his ex-boss, Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa, in last month's elections and was defeated by nearly 2 million votes a few complaints of polling irregularities notwithstanding. On Feb. 8, Fonseka was seized by military police for allegedly conspiring to launch a coup, a charge his supporters say is trumped up. The arrest has deepened concerns over the increasing heavy-handedness of Rajapaksa's rule, which has seen allegations of human-rights abuses as well as the suppression of journalists and other organs of dissent. For Fonseka, who is due to be court-martialed, it's a long fall from the glory days of last year when as Rajapaksa's right-hand man he led a decisive military campaign ending the three-decade-old insurgency of the Tamil Tigers, one of the world's most ruthless separatist groups.
Born on Dec. 18, 1950, in Ambalangoda, a coastal town in the island nation's southwest. He joined the army in 1970 as a staff officer and gradually rose through the ranks.
As a colonel in the field, Fonseka led a 1993 operation dubbed Midnight Express to relieve government troops holed up in a fort in the Tamil Tiger hotbed of Jaffna, rescuing several hundred soldiers and winning commendations for his bravery. Accompanying him on the mission was Gotabaya Rajapaksa, brother of the President, and currently Sri Lanka's iron-fisted and allegedly corrupt Secretary for Defense.
Fonseka furthered his reputation during the pivotal Operation Riviresa in 1995, in which he led a brigade that helped finally seize the town of Jaffna, a Tiger stronghold.
In 2006, Fonseka, by then a Lieutenant General, was nearly killed by a Tamil Tiger suicide bomber (the group pioneered the deadly tactic following the start of its war for an independent Tamil homeland in 1983). After receiving treatment abroad, Fonseka returned to his desk within three months of the attack.
As the country's top military commander in May 2009, Fonseka was the architect of the final campaign that encircled the last remaining Tamil Tiger positions from the north and east and led to the killing of the Tigers' notorious leader, Velupillai Prabakharan.
In November, Fonseka resigned his post after falling out with Rajapaksa, whom he claimed was trying to sideline him within the country's military hierarchy and was taking too much credit as a civilian for waging a war fought by Fonseka's troops.
Fonseka threw his hat into the ring for the Jan. 27 presidential elections, then considered just a formality for Rajapaksa, and provided the incumbent a real political challenge. Though he cobbled together a loose coalition of opposition, Muslim and ethnic Tamil political parties, Fonseka ultimately failed to win enough votes. The country's Tamil and Muslim minorities were largely disenchanted with both candidates, who hail from the country's ethnic Sinhalese majority.
In the aftermath of the election, Fonseka refused to accept the results, speaking conspiratorially of plots to assassinate him. His opponents in power accused him of planning to topple the government; on Feb. 8, over 100 soldiers burst into a political meeting Fonseka was attending and took him away as prisoner.
"We can announce very responsibly that we have liberated the whole country from terrorism."
To Sri Lankan state television after security forces defeated the last remaining Tamil Tigers, effectively ending one of the world's longest-running civil wars (CBC News, May 18, 2009)
"I am both disgusted at the way they have treated me and extremely disillusioned ... [My government-assigned security guards] are all new men. They could be an assassination squad maybe they are trying to assassinate me."
After stepping down from his military position and entering civilian life in the opposition (Sunday Leader, Nov. 22, 2009)
"The country in the future will be free of corruption. Democracy will be restored. Your children will have a bright future."
At a Jan. 24 election rally (New York Times, Jan. 24, 2010)
"[Fonseka] has to answer to the people. We have a lot of allegations against him. [Sri Lankans] don't want anarchy. They don't want dictatorship. So they rejected Fonseka."
Basil Rajapaksa, younger brother and adviser to President Mahinda Rajapaksa, in the aftermath of Fonseka's defeat at the polls on Jan. 28. Rajapaksa hinted at Fonseka's rumored plans to overthrow the government (Indo-Asian News Service, Jan. 28, 2010)
"This is a military matter that has nothing to do with politics."
Brigadier V.U.B. Nanayakkara, a Sri Lankan military spokesman, in the wake of the Feb. 8 arrest on the grounds of committing "military offences" (New York Times, Feb. 9, 2010)
"The way the troops spoke to General Fonseka and the way they forcibly dragged him away is a disgrace to the security forces. It is a shameful way to treat your former commander."
Rauf Hakeem, leading Sri Lankan Muslim politician and Fonseka ally, after witnessing Fonseka's arrest (AFP, Feb. 9, 2010)
"This is not an arrest. It is an abduction."
Anoma Fonseka, Sarath Fonseka's wife, pleading at a press conference that she knew little of her husband's whereabouts or medical condition (AFP, Feb. 9, 2010)