Sri Lanka military says looking for deserters at Fonseka’s hotel

January 27, 2010 (AFP) – Heavily armed troops on Wednesday surrounded the hotel occupied by Sri Lanka’s main presidential challenger, former army chief Sarath Fonseka, a military spokesman said. Brigadier Udaya Nanayakkara said troops were deployed following information that army deserters were among 400 people inside the lake-front luxury hotel in central Colombo

“We have surrounded the hotel. We have sent a message asking them to surrender,” Nanayakkara said. “They have not come out.”

Around 80 troops with machine guns, as well as police and paramilitary forces, stood facing the hotel just outside the main perimeter fence.

Nanayakkara said they were not targeting Fonseka, a retired four-star general who is trailing in Tuesday’s fiercely contested presidential election at which he challenged his former boss, President Mahinda Rajapakse.

“We know General Fonseka is inside, but our interest is in the army deserters who could be armed,” Nanayakkara said, adding that it was an offence to shelter deserters.

The government had earlier accused Fonseka of employing a private militia consisting of army deserters, a charge denied by the opposition.

Small clusters of soldier