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Ban raises Fonseka arrest with Sri Lanka President

(February 11, United Nations (Reuters), Sri Lanka Guardian) Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon discussed the arrest of a defeated Sri Lankan opposition candidate with the country's president and expressed concern about events in the Asian nation, the United Nations said on Wednesday.

In a telephone call on Tuesday night, Ban also agreed with President Mahinda Rajapaksa that Lynn Pascoe, head of the U.N. political department, would visit the island soon after the presidential inauguration this month, a U.N. statement said.

Tensions have risen in Sri Lanka since former army commander Sarath Fonseka was arrested on Monday by military police on charges of engaging in politics against his president while still in uniform.

Fonseka and Rajapaksa worked together to end a 25-year war against Tamil Tiger separatists last year but soon fell out. Fonseka lost to Rajapaksa in a January presidential poll and then accused his former commander-in-chief of rigging the vote.

The U.N. statement said Ban "expressed his concern (to Rajapaksa) about recent developments in Sri Lanka," brought up Fonseka's arrest and "urged the government to respect the due process of law and guarantee (Fonseka's) personal safety."

Ban also pressed Rajapaksa to keep a commitment to make proposals for a political solution of issues with the Tamil community in the north and ensure full accountability for any human rights violations.

More needs to be done to return people displaced by the fighting with the separatists to their places of origin, the U.N. chief said.

The Sri Lankan government offered an upbeat assessment of the conversation.

"Ban Ki-moon congratulated President Mahinda Rajapaksa on his outstanding victory," it said in a statement.

The statement, which was posted on the Sri Lankan government's website (www.priu.gov.lk), did not mention Fonseka.

"(Ban) was told that the government looked forward to further progress both in the economic and development spheres, with the participation of investors and other assistance from abroad," the Sri Lankan statement said.

Human rights groups have accused Colombo of disregarding human life as the war ended, saying the Sri Lankan Army fired heavy artillery at a tiny strip of land where the Tigers had retreated along with hundreds of thousands of civilians.

The Sri Lankan government has rejected the charges.

Ban visited Sri Lanka shortly after the end of the conflict last May, but some human rights advocates charged that the visit appeared to be endorsing the government's victory.

Regarding accusations of human rights violations, the government statement said Ban was told that an independent committee in Sri Lanka was "looking into the contents of the related reports and ... further action would be taken as considered necessary."

(Reporting by Patrick Worsnip and Louis Charbonneau; editing by Paul Simao)

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