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NZ wants to see Fiji meet its Forum commitments

Rt Hon Winston Peters
Minister of Foreign Affairs

20 June 2008
Opinion piece

NZ wants to see Fiji meet its Forum commitments

By Foreign Minister Winston Peters
(770 words)

Winston Peters, New Zealand’s Foreign Minister and member of the Forum Ministerial Contact Group on Fiji, explains why New Zealand wants to see Fiji meet its commitments to the Pacific Forum to restore democratic and constitutional government.

The current state of the relationship between Fiji and New Zealand is a direct result of the unlawful military takeover of December 2006. While it is true that this event, and the actions stemming from it, have restricted the way we engage with each other, diplomatic channels are most certainly still open and active.

New Zealand’s interest in seeing Fiji prosper in a stable political environment has been a consistent part of our foreign policy for several decades.

The past eighteen months have been an extremely active period for the Pacific Forum in terms of its regional diplomacy on Fiji. There have been three meetings of Forum foreign ministers, as well as a key Forum leaders’ meeting in Tonga which devoted considerable effort to encouraging the restoration of democratic and constitutional government within Fiji.

Forum leaders will next meet in Niue in August and Fiji will again be on the agenda.

Prior to that meeting, the Foreign Ministers of New Zealand, Australia, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Tonga and Tuvalu will participate in the Forum’s Ministerial Contact Group on Fiji. We will spend the coming weeks formulating a clear view on the state of Fiji’s electoral preparations to report back.

All of this demonstrates that New Zealand, along with Fiji’s other regional neighbours within the Forum, care deeply about what happens in Fiji. We all look forward to the day when the situation in Fiji will no longer be a subject of concern within Forum discussions.

While the Fiji interim government has sometimes reacted critically to the actions of the Forum and its individual members, it is important to recognise that those actions are grounded in a deep concern about Fiji’s future.

The Fiji interim government made important commitments to Forum leaders in Tonga last year. It agreed to hold free and fair elections by March 2009, in accordance with Fiji’s electoral laws and constitution - and to respect the outcome of those elections.

In Suva, New Zealand continues to work in the Forum-Fiji Joint Working Group to encourage further movement in this direction. These efforts are supported by other international partners and donors, including the European Union and the United States.

It is important to underline that New Zealand does not see elections as offering a full solution to Fiji’s internal problems. We recognise that Fiji’s problems are complex and deep, and we remain willing to provide support and assistance in addressing these challenges, as we have done for many years.

What is needed to address these issues is a truly inclusive and independent process of political dialogue, which will formulate solutions in a co-operative and collaborative way. It goes without saying that New Zealand cannot accept that a military dominated administration which lacks a popular mandate should impose its will on the people of Fiji. Nor do we believe that such an imposed solution will endure. There is a real risk that it will exacerbate Fiji’s divisions.

That is why New Zealand continues to call on Fiji’s interim government to honour its commitments to advance electoral preparations. That is also why we call on the interim government, and all other key political leaders within Fiji, to participate in discussions aimed at identifying some of the key issues that a properly constituted government will need to consider.

In this way, we hope to nurture a climate that will enable free and fair elections.

New Zealand also remains actively engaged with Fiji through our aid programme. This includes through the assistance we have provided for electoral preparations, and also through the programmes to support communities within Fiji.

For example, in the past year New Zealand has provided over $400,000 of humanitarian assistance to help poor families who have lost livelihoods due to heavy flooding and the closure of the Vatukoula gold mine on the main island.

Many Fijians, including some members of the interim government, have lived and studied in New Zealand, and know our country well. They should also know that New Zealand’s policies and approach to Fiji are consistent with those adopted after previous coups in Fiji and with our responses to coups in other countries.

New Zealand places such a high importance on ensuring that Fiji meets its commitments to Forum leaders, because this will clear the way for the restoration of the close and friendly relationship we enjoyed in the past.

We all look forward to that day.


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