Thu, Nov 30, 2006 - Page 5 News List

Fiji troops practice repelling foreign forces

FLEXING MUSCLES Fiji's leader requested that regional leaders meet tomorrow to discuss a coup threat, while the military made a show against foreign involvement

AFP , SUVA

The Fijian military announced yesterday it will stage a three-hour firing exercise in the country's capital, Suva, training troops to repel foreign forces -- a show of muscle following inconclusive peace talks in New Zealand.

The exercise will also involve securing strategic parts of the city.

After the meeting in Wellington between Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase and military commander Voreqe Bainimarama, the military said that "illumination" rounds would be fired seawards from Suva from midnight yesterday to 3am this morning.

Troops will be in full battle gear, the statement said.

"The exercise is in anticipation of any foreign intervention and the [Fijian military] is taking all precautionary measures," the statement said.

Regional foreign ministers are to meet in Australia tomorrow, at the request of Qarase, to consider the repeated coup threats from Bainimarama.

Under a Pacific Forum declaration, member countries can intervene to help resolve unrest in another member state, but only at the specific request of the affected government.

Attempts this week by the US, British and Australian ambassadors to Fiji to meet military officers to seek an assurance there would be no coup met with an angry response.

Army spokesman Major Neumi Leweni said in a statement it was "inappropriate for a civilian diplomat to visit a military camp and seek to speak directly to officers."

The two-hour talks in New Zealand aimed at averting a coup in Fiji ended with no sign of a backdown by either side.

New Zealand Foreign Minister Winston Peters, who brokered the talks, described them as "lengthy, serious and meaningful," but said there was more talking to be done.

Bainimarama would not talk to reporters as he left for his flight back to Fiji, while Qarase said the talks were not long enough to reach conclusions.

"I'm not going to give you any details, but overall it was a good start and definitely there is need for further consultations on some of the issues," he told Fijian radio.

But Qarase said there were no concrete plans for him and Bainimarama to meet again soon.

The military commander has vowed a "clean-up campaign" against the government if the demands of the military are not met.

The armed forces want three controversial bills dropped, Police Commissioner Andrew Hughes sacked and police investigations into Bainimarama and other senior military officers halted.

The military statement issued in Suva said the exercise would involve rounds being shot into the sea near Nukulau Islands, Makuluva Island and the entrance to Suva harbor.

Leweni could not say if they would be firing live rounds.

Police spokeswoman Sylvia Low said the military did not need its permission to conduct such exercises.

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