Sun, Nov 12, 2006 - Page 5 News List

Fijian military has `given up' on PM

'HAD ENOUGH' Leaders of the country's armed forces said that they were tired of the 'lies' from the government, although they didn't say they wanted to end its rule

AFP , SUVA

Fiji's military commander, Commodore Frank Bainimarama, center, arrives at the Great Council of Chiefs meeting in Suva on Friday to address the council over the tensions between the military and the government. Fijian Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase also attended the council meeting to outline the government's stance.

PHOTO: AP

Hopes in Fiji that defiant military leader Voreqe Bainimarama would bury the hatchet with Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase appear to have been dashed with the military saying it has "given up" on the government.

A recording of Bainimarama's closed-door address on Friday to Fiji's Great Council of Chiefs revealed the military leader denouncing the prime minister's leadership and policies.

"Mr Prime Minister, we've had enough of your lies," Bainimarama told Qarase at the meeting, a copy of the meeting's recording said.

The emergency meeting of the Pacific island nation's traditional leaders was called in an attempt to broker a settlement between Bainimarama and Qarase.

Although fears of a fourth military coup in Fiji in two decades have eased, tensions remain high.

The military commander has kept up his assaults on the premier, but backed away from threats to force him and the government from office despite accusing them of lies and corruption.

In yesterday's address, Bainimarama said he was "alarmed" by an announcement from the prime minister that he would not withdraw two pieces of legislation that the military wants expunged.

"This action by the prime minister tells the military that the prime minister has given up on us," Bainimarama said.

"By the same token, we want to tell you, Mr Prime Minister, that we've also given up on you."

Qarase, who left the meeting chamber 10 minutes after Bainimarama, has not spoken publicly about the harsh attack.

However, a communique issued by the chiefs at the end of their meeting showed they stood firmly behind the government.

"The Bose Levu Vakaturaga [council of chiefs] remains committed to supporting at all times the legally elected government," their statement said.

They also indicated they would not condone any attempt to oust the government, saying the "rule of law, respect for democracy as well as customary laws" must be upheld.

The chiefs agreed to set up a mediation committee to try to bring Bainimarama and Qarase to the negotiating table.

An exchange of correspondence on Thursday between Qarase and Bainimarama's deputy Captain Esala Teleni showed the military making several demands.

It wanted proposed legislation relating to royalties from fisheries, land claims and reconciliation to be shelved, police commissioner Andrew Hughes to be sacked, investigations into the army's commander and the Fiji army terminated and the abolition of the Fijian police's new tactical response unit.

"Having another armed element is not good for the country, in particular if the rules of engagement are not clear," Teleni wrote.

The military also warned Qarase it would not "accept any foreign intervention" in the Fiji crisis.

"Fiji is neither a failed state nor collapsing and doesn't warrant foreign intervention. Any foreign intervention will not augur well to the maintaining of stability in our country," it said.

Although there have been no steps towards an intervention force, Foreign Minister Kaliopate Tavola was reported saying in the Fiji Times newspaper yesterday that countries including Australia and New Zealand could discuss the possibility if the standoff continues.

"The Biketawa Declaration provides for that [foreign intervention] and it is for foreign affairs ministers to meet and consider a situation, in this case the standoff between the military and the government," Tavola said.

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