May 30, 2011

We don't want Fiji's coup loser: New Zealand Herald Opinion

By Brian Rudman
Brian Rudman is a Herald columnist focussing on Auckland issues
5:30 AM Wednesday May 25, 2011

The Government would have us believe New Zealand is already over-run with law-breaking scoundrels, so why is Prime Minister John Key even contemplating rolling out the red carpet for one from overseas?

One of the Fijian coup leaders, Lieutenant-Colonel Ratu Tevita Mara, has fallen out with his boss, Commodore Voreqe "Frank" Bainimarama, and slipped away to Tonga to escape his wrath.

Now safely closeted with his blue-blood cousins in the palace grounds in Nuku'alofa, he's hurling abuse at "Frank" while trying to win friends by claiming he's seen the error of his ways and is willing to return to take his medicine.

But not, it seems, the medicine his former chum, the dictator, has in mind.

While this inter-island slanging goes on, Mr Key says he's looking at removing Mr Mara from the blanket ban on members of the illegal Fijian regime entering New Zealand, imposed after the December 2006 coup.

In a remarkable piece of sophistry, Mr Key told Radio New Zealand on Monday that because Mr Mara was on the run, he was "no longer" a member of the regime, implying that he would therefore be free to enter New Zealand.

Only in the make-believe world of diplomacy double-talk could one accept the farce that Mr Mara was now acceptable as a visitor because he'd fallen out big time with his fellow coupsters, and had fled abroad to escape charges of sedition and attempted mutiny.

These charges arose from a trip to South Korea where he was overheard bad-mouthing the Fiji dictator to a fellow officer. But even if he is technically no longer a member of the illegal regime and therefore acceptable, he does have another hoop to leap through to escape the ban.

It is a hoop raised earlier by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The ban also covers those with family links to the regime, and his brother-in-law, Ratu Epeli Nailaitikau, happens to be President.

By canvassing the issue of asylum in public, the Government has made a rod for its own back.

Blogger "Coup Four and a Half" last week claimed that in an interview with the fugitive, when asked if he was seeking asylum in New Zealand, Mr Mara rather confusingly replied: "I have not made contact with New Zealand for over five years. I have definitely not spoken to anyone from the New Zealand Government in the last 14 days."

When told that it was being discussed in New Zealand anyway, he said he was "obviously pleased" to hear the news "but I have no plans to do so at this time".

If this is so, why are we putting the idea in his head and all but encouraging him to do so?

What sort of signal does this send to the real patriots in Fiji and elsewhere in the Pacific, struggling to restore or uphold their young and fragile democracies?

Mr Mara is of the Fijian nobility. Son of Fiji's founding father, Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara, and related to the Tongan royalty, he was a top military commander who assisted his commanding officer to seize power four and a half years ago. He's one of the guilty men.

After he broke bail and fled to Tonga, he has denounced his coup colleagues with much vituperation. He has also tried self-justification.

In a statement from Tonga he says: "The army had a strict plan which was to remove corruption and corrupt politicians and to return to barracks within a year."

Referring to himself in the third person, he continued: "Lieutenant-Colonel Tevita Uluilakeba Mara was in charge of the 3 Fiji Infantry Regiment on that day and for the next four years. He witnessed from the inside how power has corrupted the key players in the regime and how now they have forgotten their original objectives as they desperately cling to power.

"Colonel Mara has left Fiji so that he can speak freely about the need for regime change in his beloved Fiji."

It's hardly a unique tale of woe. This is what inevitably happens when the military seize power. Whether Mr Mara was planning to pry power out of the hands of his commander, so he could have a turn ruling his beloved Fiji, or help restore democracy, we don't know.

In the dictatorship that is Fiji, all that matters is that his boss thought he was going to rat on him and, as a result, he's now cooling his heels in the luxury of King George's guest house.

He's even expressing contrition, saying: "When this hateful dictatorship has been eradicated, all of us who once served it shall answer to the Fijian people for the part we played and I will gladly submit to their verdict."

Hopefully he will have no choice in the matter.

Since Lieutenant-Colonel Sitiveni Rabuka marched into Parliament in 1987 declaring himself the saviour of the nation, Fiji has endured an epidemic of dictators.

Throughout the era, New Zealand has fought for the restoration of democracy.

Just because the latest bunch of dictators has fallen out doesn't mean the loser is welcome on our shores.

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