Rebel Leader Rejects Envoys' Appeal Free Hostages
25 May 2000: 8.30am
By Losana McGowan, Joe Yaya and Harry Aurere
USP Journalism Programme
SUVA: Rebel leader George Speight has refused an appeal by two international envoys for immediate and unconditional release of Fiji's elected government, held hostage for the past six days in the Pacific nation's Parliament.
The envoys last night visited Parliament where gunmen have been holding elected Prime Minister Mahendra Chaudhry and more than 30 of his ministers and MPs prisoner since last Friday.
Commonwealth Secretary Don McKinnon and a personal envoy of the United Nations Secretary-General, Sergio Vieira de Mello, were allowed to see the hostages for about five minutes.
McKinnon said Chaudhry would not resign.
He added that some of the women hostages were overwhelmed with emotion at seeing them, bursting into tears.
McKinnon said: "There is no tolerance these days for the the overthrow of an elected government."
De Mello said that if the rebels' succeeded in their demands, "it would be an unfortunate precedent in the region when we are trying to build democratic institutions in the South Pacific, including East Timor."
At a media conference, a reporter asked whether the visit to the Parliament by the envoys gave "global recognition to a bunch of hoodlums".
McKinnon replied no - they entered the Parliament complex to visit the captive prime minister and the hostages.
The Great Council of Chiefs will continue its discussion on the crisis today after drafting a resolution which includes a change in government, according to media reports.
Reaffirming their support for President Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara's efforts to resolve the crisis, the chiefs have asked him to form an interim government to help run the affairs of state.
They also want a group of Fijian lawyers to look at changes that legally can be made to the constitution and there have been conflicting reports about the possibility of an amnesty for the rebels.
Council chairman Sitiveni Rabuka last night did not confirm details of the draft resolution but said the chiefs would meet this morning to finalise the document.
Fears are held by economists and the business sector for the future of the country's economy.
Seven days into the siege, indications are that the Fiji dollar is likely to devalue.
On Monday, the Reserve Bank of Fiji was forced to clamp down on lending and increase interest rates in a move to restrict the flow of funds out of the country.
With a lot of businesses destroyed by fire and looting on the day of the coup (friday), entrepreneurs are worried about where they will get money from should they want to rebuild.
Police estimated losses to last Friday's rampage through the city of Suva at more than $30 million, which hit the economy and prompted the Reserve Bank to impose strict controls.
"There is a possibility of the Fiji dollar being devalued as another negative effect of the sudden fall in the country's political condition," said chairman of the Fiji Trade and Investment Board James Datta.
"With the damage sustained, it will take about 10 years to build up and to get back to where the economy was before last week," he told reporters.