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Prime Minster's Statement on Fiji Crisis

22 May 2000

Statement on Fiji Crisis

It is now three days since a gang of armed men, led by George Speight, took hostage Prime Minister Chaudhry, members of his Cabinet and government politicians. Cabinet today received an update on the situation from Mr Goff, including the implications for New Zealanders in Fiji or contemplating visiting.

Cabinet endorsed the position taken over the weekend by Mr Goff and I in expressing concern and outrage on behalf of New Zealand, and deploring the criminal actions of Speight’s group. We condemn the unlawful detention and thuggish treatment of Prime Minister Chaudhry and other members of his Government.

We are particularly concerned at the physical treatment and threats that have been made against the Prime Minister and the other hostages. Mr Chaudhry and his Ministers have been subjected to severe psychological pressure and in some cases physical abuse. Mr Chaudhry at one point collapsed. He has now been seen by a doctor. Mr Speight has repeatedly declared that any attempt to release the hostages by force would result in casualties and that Mr Chaudhry and Koila Mara, Minister of Tourism and Ratu Mara’s daughter, would be the first to be killed.

I sent a message to President Ratu Mara last evening conveying the support of all New Zealanders. This is a very difficult time for him both as a father and as the legitimate President of Fiji. I know that he is working extremely hard to find a peaceful solution to the present crisis, and I have assured him of our complete support in his efforts.

The current constitution, framed over 10 painful years after the coup of 1987, was a considerable achievement. It effects a complicated balance of rights and interests, including special recognition of the place of the indigenous Fijian people. It is within this constitution that the current legitimate government was formed. The New Zealand Government strongly believes that it is within this constitution that the current political crisis must be resolved.

No-one in the international community is prepared to endorse a takeover coming from the barrel of a gun. In addition to New Zealand, Australia, the UK, US, some Forum members, the Commonwealth Secretary-General and UN Secretary-General have all have condemned Mr Speight’s action in trying to undermine the democratic process.

We support the efforts of Fijian Police Commissioner Savua who is trying to resolve the hostage situation through negotiation. This aim is shared by the President, the Army Commander and by General Rabuka who has been conducting “shuttle diplomacy” between Speight and the President.

New Zealand has offered police experts to assist with the negotiations to resolve the crisis. The Police Commissioner has indicated to us that he needs no external assistance at this stage, but the offer remains open. As I have already said, this is a hostage situation, which the Fiji police and military are committed to resolving.

If the situation degenerates to the extent that the lives of New Zealanders (some 3000 visitors and 400 residents) are threatened, we have contingency plans in place using both civilian and military aircraft and ships.

A Travel Advisory was issued by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade emphasising that only those with essential business should travel to Fiji at this time. Fortunately no significant trouble has been encountered by New Zealand or other foreign tourists in the main resort areas in the South and West. International air links remain in place and Air New Zealand has reported no significant disruption to services. While international telephone links have been restored, they are overloaded, so connections are erratic.

The state of emergency declared by President Ratu Mara remains in force, and the situation in Suva is tense. We are maintaining the Travel Advisory, and will continue to monitor the situation closely.

The High Commission office in Suva closed at midday Friday but has opened for business again today. Contact has been maintained throughout, using satellite communications as necessary. An additional Foreign Affairs officer has been sent to reinforce staff at the post, along with two Police DPS squad members as advisers.

Here in Wellington the Ministry has convened a 24 hour officials monitoring taskforce and continues to provide me and other Ministers with regular updates. An interdepartmental Watch Group, chaired by DPMC, has also met at officials and CEO level. Officials are in close contact with Australian, South Pacific Forum, UK and US counterparts. Mr Goff has spoken with some Pacific leaders, the Commonwealth Secretary-General, the Australian and British foreign ministers and the US Assistant Secretary of State.

ENDS

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