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Tongan Army Must Stay In Barracks

Friday, 19 August 2005

Hon Matt Robson MP, Progressive Deputy Leader

Tongan Army Must Stay In Barracks

One of the most worrying developments in the growing protest action in Tonga is the potential role of the Royal family-controlled army, says Progressive MP Matt Robson.

Protest was initially based on the civil servants’ claim and is now widening to a broad pro-democracy movement.

“In the recent Foreign Affairs Select Committee inquiry on relations with Tonga evidence was heard on possible misuse of the armed forces, from a former high-ranking Tongan officer now in exile in New Zealand and others.

“Many Tongans fear that the Tongan Armed Forces, directly accountable to the King, would in the event of any direct challenge to the autocratic rule of the Tongan elite, be turned out in the streets against the people.

“In a minority report Progressive and the Greens called for New Zealand to end its cooperation with the Tongan armed forces,“ said Progressive MP Matt Robson.

"The stand-off situation that has developed in Tonga was predicted by the retiring New Zealand High Commissioner in his 2001 exit report to the New Zealand government. It is pertinent to re-read that report. It won't do for New Zealand to be silent in the face of what is happening on the ground in Tonga.

"I will contact Phil Goff today. I believe our Labour-Progressive government should advise the Tongan Government that no support will be given by New Zealand to any use of the armed forces of Tonga against the people of Tonga," the Progressive MP said.

The select committee report provides conclusive evidence of the growing distress of the ordinary Tonga and the need for urgent steps to be taken to representative democracy and the end to political and economic power being concentrated in the hands of the few.

Select Committee report - extract Green Party and Progressive Party minority view

The Green and Progressive members agree that New Zealand should not provide any further assistance in building up the Tongan forces, at least as regards land forces.16 The two members are not convinced that Tonga needs a land force separate from the Police. They are opposed to New Zealand supporting Tongan

. . . .over Defence Service deployments overseas, which serve only to strengthen the land force which could be used against the people, as seven of the nine elected Tongan members of Parliament, Kuli Taumoefolau, and Kalafi Moala have submitted.

Footnote 16) This was also raised by Brian Smyth, New Zealand High Commissioner to Tonga 1999 - Sept 2001 when he says “The TDS see their primary role as defence of the kingdom (for which read defence of the Monarchy). Some soldiers consider the democracy movement as the ‘enemy’ ... Our forces could be encouraged to try and impart some values as well as technical skills to the Tongan soldiers they encounter.

And we should continue to refrain from supplying weapons to the TDS, as urged by the democracy movement ... were it to come to the crunch, the rank and file would refuse to obey an order to fire on a crowd. But weapons could easily fall into the hands of a few extremists determined to preserve the nobles’ privileged position.”

ENDS

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