Sri Lanka releases prisoners on freedom day

Sri Lanka freed over 1,600 convicts on Friday to mark the 63rd anniversary of independence from Britain, but the jailed opposition leader received no reprieve.

President Mahinda Rajapakse issued a decree granting freedom to 1,669 inmates, including 57 women, all of whom were released Friday, a prison official said. The amnesty applied to those convicted for minor offences.

However, former army chief and defeated opposition presidential candidate Sarath Fonseka was not among those released.

He did not qualify for an amnesty because he had been convicted by a court martial, the official said.

Sri Lanka’s main opposition boycotted the official independent day celebrations at the southern pilgrim town of Kataragama to protest the jailing of Fonseka.

The opposition planned to hold a demonstration later in the day outside the main prison in Colombo where Fonseka is serving a 30-month sentence after a court martial found him guilty of irregularities when he was army chief.

Fonseka is widely credited with leading troops to crush Tamil Tiger rebels and ending the island’s 37-year separatist war. He fell out with Rajapakse on who should take credit for the military victory.

The former army chief was arrested two weeks after he failed to unseat Rajapakse in the January 2010 presidential election and was convicted in September.

Meanwhile, the military has offered to discharge all of its 50,000 deserters without disciplinary action if they surrender to their respective units during an eight-day period starting Friday.