The Fijian government yesterday accused Australia and New Zealand of attempting to undermine its return to democracy and said Tongan navy vessels were in its territorial waters.
The hard-hitting statement, posted on the Fijian government’s Web site, singled out the Australian and New Zealand foreign ministers, Kevin Rudd and Murray McCully, for particularly strident criticism.
It was released as runaway Fiji soldier Colonel Tevita Mara, who fled to neighboring Pacific island Tonga three weeks ago to avoid a sedition charge, begins a round of public appearances in Australia.
His arrival in Australia and the presence of Tongan vessels “within Fiji’s EEZ [exclusive economic zone] at Minerva Reef” demonstrated a concerted effort by Rudd and McCully “to subvert the path towards the holding of truly democratic elections in Fiji,” the unsigned statement said.
Fiji’s military leader Voreqe Bainimarama, who seized power in a 2006 coup, has promised elections in 2014, while Australia and New Zealand have led international pressure for an immediate return to democracy.
“Rudd and McCully, driven by their neo-colonial and personal agenda ... see Mara as someone who can give some form of credibility to their unfounded and misplaced assessment of Fiji and the rest of the Southern Pacific,” the Fiji statement said.
“As far as Fiji is concerned there is no Mara or Tonga-Fiji situation,” it said. “It is a Rudd and McCully spreading their wings to save face situation.”
Fiji said Tonga’s decision to give a passport to Mara, a relative of the Tongan king, and New Zealand and Australia granting him visas showed “a web of deceit, collusion and a complete lack” of regard for extradition processes.
“While malice, deceit and lies will escalate, the Tongans as seen with their presence at the Minerva Reef will be manipulated through offerings of gifts and aid to try and turn up the ante,” the statement said.
The Stuff news Web site in New Zealand reported that it understood from Tongan sources there were two Tongan vessels at Minerva Reef, a disputed Pacific territory claimed by Fiji and Tonga.