Mon, Nov 06, 2006 - Page 5 News List

Fijian PM extends olive branch to coup leader

AFP , SUVA

Fiji's maverick military commander met with his top officers yesterday to hammer out a response to a government olive branch after heightened tensions sparked fears of a coup here.

Tight security has surrounded the military chief, Commodore Voreqe Bainimarama, since his arrival home on Saturday amid fears he could be arrested by police for sedition.

While Bainimarama was visiting troops abroad, the government mounted a failed attempt to replace him in the wake of his repeated threats to force Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase from power.

COOLING TENSIONS

But tensions have been cooling in the South Pacific nation following assurances from the military there would be no coup and a climbdown by Qarase over a plan to offer amnesties to plotters of the last coup in 2000.

The amnesty plan had been the focus of attacks by Bainimarama, who was nearly killed in a military mutiny associated with the coup.

Qarase announced on Saturday that the amnesty provisions had now been removed from revised legislation, which also aimed to promote reconciliation in the wake of the racially divisive 2000 coup.

"I want to say that quite categorically now there is no longer any amnesty provision in the new bill," he said.

He denied that the Reconciliation, Tolerance and Unity Bill had been changed in response to military pressure, saying the draft did not comply with the Constitution.

Qarase welcomed Bainimarama's homecoming and said he hoped talks could defuse their conflict.

"It's good that he is back and I hope that he and I can talk as early as possible next week. I am ready to talk," the prime minister told reporters.

Qarase reiterated on Saturday that he saw no prospect of Fiji suffering its fourth coup in less than two decades.

"The military has already given the assurance there will be no coup and I take their word for it," he said.

REIGNITION?

But tensions could be reignited over police plans to question Bainimarama and possibly charge him with sedition for his threats against the government.

Earlier in the week Police Commissioner Andrew Hughes said the police would probably question the military commander a few days after his return but added there were no plans to arrest him.

The military took no chances on Saturday with a contingent of troops waiting for Bainimarama when his flight landed at Nadi airport in the morning.

"Given the situation we're in and speculations of the arrest it's only proper that the military take precautionary measures," military spokesman Major Neumi Leweni told Fiji TV.

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