September 18, 2013

Fiji spurns NZ peace offering

Last updated 16:00 13/09/2013

New Zealand's peace offering to Fiji has been spurned by military coup leader Frank Bainimarama.

He says Foreign Minister Murray McCully offer is not genuine, and Fiji's military-appointed Foreign Minister, Inoke Kubuabola, says McCully's move may be "a little too late". 

McCully yesterday announced a programme of electoral assistance and the easing of some sanctions as New Zealand moves to encourage Fiji.

He said the Cabinet had approved further changes "which recognise both the progress that has been made in Fiji and the need for support for free and fair elections".

Speaking on Auckland Indian Radio Tarana today, Bainimarama was not impressed.

While New Zealand and Australia had accepted the new constitution, he said, "we didn't do this for them; we did if for the Fijian people". Wellington and Canberra imposed "smart sanctions" after Bainimarama overthrew a democratic government in 2006. They were reinforced when Bainimarama broke his initial promise to hold elections in 2008.

He now promises them in a year but told Tarana that they would have happened sooner had New Zealand and Australia not imposed sanctions.

"But I want to ask the question, where were they when we really needed them?"

He said New Zealand had tried to damage Fiji as a nation.

"Yes, now they have come around, but I tell you ... it is going to take a long time to restore the trust we had initially. They tried to bring Fiji down," he told Tarana.

"Even McCully's statement yesterday that only partial travel bans will be lifted demonstrates that they are really not genuine. Nor do they really understand what is happening in Fiji."

Bainimarama said New Zealand was not treating Fiji as an equal.

Kubuabola, who has been a plotter in all four of Fiji's coups since 1987, said that while Fijiwelcomed the incremental changes in the New Zealand stance, it was regrettable they were of little impact.

Fiji had a constitution and would hold elections next year.

"It is positive that New Zealand recognises this commitment and progress, but it may have come a little too late," he said.

In his Tarana interview, Bainimarama dismissed as unimportant 14 women who were arrested and briefly held last week as they called for democracy outside Government House.

A measure of Fiji's political freedom was seen today in media outlets and how they reported an unprecedented critique of the country's military rule by new Catholic Archbishop Peter Loy Chong.
He said Bainimarama had promised change but had merely changed the form of power.

"Despite claiming to clean the government of corruption and racism as well as to bring about change and development, Bainimarama has not made much change in terms of power," Chong said.

He had replaced a corrupted and racist government and the traditional chiefs with his military chiefs.

"The military had become the institution of patronage," he said.

All Fiji media outlets reported the non-controversial parts of Chong's address but excluded reference to Bainimarama.

Formal censorship has been eased by the military but self-censorship remains strong in Fiji.

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