STATE OF IT: UN To Consider Fiji Military On "Case By Case Basis"
By Selwyn Manning – Scoop Co-Editor
The New Zealand and Australian governments have suffered a set-back in moves to have the United Nations ban Fiji's military-led government from deploying its soldiers to UN peacekeeping operations. In response to Scoop's questions the United Nations secretary general's office said it will consider Fiji's contributions on a "case by case" basis. (Scoop Image: UN Plaza New York, by Selwyn Manning).
Both New Zealand and Australia have been lobbying the United Nations' secretary general Ban Ki-moon for a definitive ruling over Fiji.
Ideally, the New Zealand and Australian missions at the United Nations in New York wish for a UN policy to ban Fiji's military or police from contributing personnel to global peacekeeping, peacemaking, and peace building operations - at least until democracy is restored in the Pacific island republic.
But in reply to Scoop Media questions, Yves Sorokobi, spokesperson for the Secretary-General's office of the United Nations, said: "The United Nations is grateful for the service provided by Fijian personnel to UN peacekeeping operations over many years and for the Fijian personnel currently serving in dangerous UN assignments, including in Iraq.
"Any new contribution," Yves Sorokobi said "will be evaluated on a case by case basis, as with all troop-contributing countries.". (UN Image: Ban Ki-moon).
The reply indicates a softening of the UN position against Fiji as compared to its former secretary general, Kofi Annan, who on the eve of the December 2006 Fiji coup warned of consequences for Fiji's military should it go ahead with a coup.
In December, at the time of the Fiji military coup, Fiji had 275 troops serving in UN peacekeeping missions.
By April 30 2007, a report published by the United Nations' Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO), showed Fiji had 17 extra soldiers deployed to UN missions - with a grand total of 292 units to UN peace missions.
Fiji ranks 48th in DPKO's Raking of Military and Police Contributions to UN Operations, well above Australia (67th) and New Zealand (80th).
DPKO's report shows Fiji actively has a total of 223 troops, 37 police units, and 8 military observers deployed to UN peacekeeping operations. They are deployed in Iraq (United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq, UNAMI), Liberia (United Nations Mission in Liberia, UNMIL), Sudan (United Nations Mission in Sudan, UNMIS), and Timor-Leste (United Nations Mission Integrated Mission in Timor-Leste, UNMIT). For more on this aspect, See... Andreas von Warburg's report for scoop.co.nz - Fiji Ranks High In UN Peacekeeping Contributions
Immediately prior to the December coup, Annan’s spokesperson said soldiers who took part in the coup d’etat would most likely be unwelcome in UN missions.
Fiji's military commander, Frank Bainimarama, subsequently ignored the threats and overthrew the elected Lisenia Qarase government on December 5, later establishing an interim military-led government.
On February 23 2007, Fiji's military claimed it had UN authorisation to deploy 92 soldiers to peacekeeping operations in Sinai and Sudan. See Scoop article: UN Conundrum Over 92 More Fiji Soldiers For North Africa Peacekeeping Op.
Then, Fiji's military spokesperson Major Neumi Leweni released information to FijiLive.com announcing an initial contingent of 42 soldiers was scheduled to leave Fiji for north Africa on March 2. A second group, he said, was to leave shortly after. (Image: Major Neumi Leweni).
Major Leweni said Captain Penioni Naliva - the private secretary for Fiji's military Commander Commodore Frank Bainimarama - would lead the Sudan mission.
But the UN secretary general, Ban Ki-moon's spokesperson told Scoop there remains confusion over Fiji's claim: "The peacekeepers in the Sinai belong to the Multinational Force and Observers (MFO), an independent organization with little connection to the UN." – this fact was confirmed by New Zealand's UN foreign affairs mission in New York.
However, it is clear from the DPKO reports (as reported above) more Fiji personnel are now deployed on UN missions than on December 5 2006 when Fiji's military overthrew the democratically elected Lisenia Qarase government. This despite the UN secretary general's office response to Scoop Media questions where it stated "There has been no increase in Fijian troops or police contributions to UN peacekeeping operations since December 2006, nor has Fiji contributed to any new UN missions since then." Clearly, either the secretary general's office or the DPKO is incorrect.
What is clear is New Zealand's foreign affairs mission in New York has made representations at the UN at the "highest possible levels" to note our Government's position.
New Zealand's ambassador and permanent representative to the UN, Rosemary Banks, told Scoop: "With respect to Sudan, the Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO) has not commented as to whether this decision was made before or after the coup."
Under Kofi Annan, New Zealand enjoyed much sway and influence, a fact demonstrated by the outgoing secretary general's staunch position over Fiji. (UN Image: Kofi Annan).
Rosemary Banks: "The former UN secretary-general said before the coup '...further prolongation of the crisis may damage Fiji's international standing, which it has built carefully over the years, as an important contributor to UN peacekeeping operations...' Current secretary-general Ban Ki-moon reiterated previous UN calls for an immediate restoration of constitutional democracy in a statement on 5 January," Rosemary Banks said.
The ambassador said: "That same day his spokesperson was asked about his stance viz-a-viz Annan's comments on Fijian peacekeepers. The response from the spokesperson was that 'what was previously said, stands.'".
Scoop inquiries, with regard to deployment numbers as reported above, demonstrate, in practice, Ban Ki-moon's response at odds to the operational reality in the field.
Back in February, a UN Security Council official told Scoop that its member states considered the 2006 Fiji coup as almost irrelevant. That indifference is changing.
While New Zealand has made no recommendations or communications to the United Nations Security Council, Scoop understands the powerful body is awaiting a UN inter-agency fact-finding mission report on Fiji.
The report's findings and recommendations are currently under evaluation by the secretary general's office.
A Security Council contact has told Scoop, the Security Council is waiting for the report: "Australia and New Zealand are constantly pressing the SG (secretary general) and DPKO on Fiji peacekeepers, and are trying to ban Fiji military personnel from UN missions. What is certain is that Fiji's international stature is diminishing, as a recent decision by IPU (Inter Parliamentary Union) to suspend the country's membership demonstrates." (UN Image: Security Council).
Little detail of the mission's findings are known. Scoop understands the report will remain top secret. New Zealand's ambassador Rosemary Banks said: "According to a release from the Secretary-General's spokesperson, the report (when completed) will be confidential and will not be released beyond the Secretariat. We have not seen the report and do not know what its current status is."
Scoop sought information from the secretary general's office which replied: "The mission concluded some 10 days ago and the team is now working on drafting the report. It will be some time before we can answer your question."
Considering the UN's relaxed disposition over Fiji, Is New Zealand's position to change? Rosemary Banks: "New Zealand has been consistently clear with respect to our national position. We do not believe that the UN should be using Fijian troops."
Scoop's inquiries show the United Nation's position on Fiji remains without prejudice and as per UN DPKO policy - its overseeing policy regarding Fiji remains standard as is applied to all contributing nations. For example; in reply to Scoop questions, Ban Ki-moon's office said: "Any Fijian personnel, who are alleged to have committed human rights abuses or other illegal activities, will be repatriated at the expense of the troop-contributing country."
In January New Zealand's Prime Minister Helen Clark said: "Shortly after the Fiji coup, when we announced the measures we were taking, our Ambassador herself went to the UN. So we did it at the most senior level in New York, and made it very clear that we did not think that Fiji troops should be supporting these exercises."
And now? New Zealand's ambassador Rosemary Banks said: "That position still stands."