WASHINGTON — A Norman woman left for Sri Lanka on Thursday hoping to see her father, a former army commander in that country, freed from prison just days after Sen. Jim Inhofe requested his release during a meeting in Washington with Sri Lankan government officials.
Apsara Fonseka, whose father is considered a political prisoner by the U.S. State Department, said in an interview that Inhofe has been working for two years for his release. A report out of Sri Lanka on Thursday from the Reuters news agency said former Gen. Sarath Fonseka is expected to be released in the next few days.
“(Inhofe) has been working with me since the day this began, and he has helped me tremendously,” said Aspara Fonseka, a financial analyst at MidFirst Bank in Oklahoma City. “He has certainly gone above and beyond to help.”
Sarath Fonseka was the commander of the Sri Lankan army during the final stages of the 25-year civil war with Tamil Tiger rebels.
A few months after the war ended in 2009, Fonseka decided to challenge Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa for the office. After his defeat in early 2010, Fonseka was detained and then convicted last year on charges of inciting violence, according to the State Department.
Inhofe, R-Tulsa, and his staff began working with the State Department on the case after Apsara Fonseka contacted the senator two years ago.
Tuesday, the senator met personally with a delegation from the Sri Lankan government that was on Capitol Hill to talk about its plans for reconciling with an ethnic group that Sarath Fonseka helped defeat in a civil war.
The delegation included the foreign minister of Sri Lanka, I.G. Peiris, who is scheduled to meet with Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton on Friday.
Inhofe presented Peiris with a letter to Rajapaksa respectfully requesting Sarath Fonseka's release.
The letter states, “Mr. President, I believe that as your country seeks reconciliation … a good will gesture by you in the form of releasing Sarath Fonseka for time served because of his ill health will send a positive message that Sri Lanka is moving forward from its civil war past.
“This humanitarian action will be recognized as such not only in your country but by me, other Senators on the (Foreign Relations) Committee and the Obama Administration.”
Inhofe said Thursday, “The news that the Sri Lankan government will release General Sarath Fonseka, unconditionally, is welcome news.
“I hope the Sri Lankan government proceeds with this publicly announced plan to release him this coming Saturday. If they do, it will be a major step toward achieving reconciliation in a post-civil war era for that country. It will also be a very happy and long awaited day for General Fonseka's family.”
Apsara Fonseka said her mother had spoken to the Sri Lankan president and that he gave his word that he would release her father, who has health problems related to a 2006 assassination attempt.
“It's a high probability he will be released,” she said. “I think he will.”
Fonseka, who has been in Oklahoma for 12 years, said she has not seen her father since he was imprisoned. She said she was “anxious” about her trip because she didn't know what to expect.
But, she said, “I have to be there, no matter what.”