Threats by Fiji's military commander to force the government of the racially divided nation to resign must be taken seriously, New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark said yesterday.
Reports in Fiji on Tuesday quoted military commander Voreqe Bainimarama as saying the military would force Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase's government to resign if it did not withdraw controversial legislation.
The military has been at odds with Qarase over a planned law to offer amnesties to the plotters of a 2000 coup, as well as a separate bill to transfer control of coastal foreshores and waters to local indigenous communities.
Bainimarama, who came close to losing his life in a military mutiny associated with the 2000 coup, last year threatened to overthrow the government if it passed the amnesty legislation.
The Fiji Times reported yesterday Bainimarama as saying he stood by the comments he made earlier this week.
Clark warned that although he had been quieter since national elections in May, Bainimarama should not be taken lightly.
"This comes a bit out of the blue and I don't think we can just say well, it's nothing, it's just rumbling," Clark told Radio New Zealand.
New Zealand had to be concerned when the threats against the government were being repeated by Bainimarama and when there was "quite a lot of evidence" of intent to carry them out, she said.
Bainimarama, who was in the Middle East inspecting Fijian troops, was quoted as saying on Tuesday in the Fiji Times that the army did not need any special powers to demand the government's resignation.
"And we don't have to take over because the military will walk into the office of the prime minister and demand his resignation," he added.
"If the people want us to do this, we will do it. At this stage Fiji needs good governance and the military will demand for their resignation. There is nothing illegal about this," he said.
"If government can't do the right thing then [it should] resign because they have introduced policies and bills that are only taking the country backwards and not forward," the paper quoted him as saying.
Mahendra Chaudhry was overthrown as Fiji's first ethnic Indian prime minister in the May 2000 coup, which ended when Bainimarama arrested key plotters.
Clark, Australian Prime Minister John Howard and leaders from 14 island countries are sacheduled to meet in Fiji's tourist center of Nadi next week for the Pacific Islands Forum.
The forum looked likely to be overshadowed by deteriorating relations between Australia and Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands, as well as the instability in Fiji.