Elected Government Condemns Chiefs' Offer
ELECTED GOVERNMENT CONDEMNS CHIEFS' 'UNCONSTITUTIONAL'
27 May 2000: 8.30am
USP Journalism Programme
SUVA: The elected government of the Fiji Islands has reacted with alarm to the chiefs' proposals to resolve the week-old hostage crisis, branding the resolutions as "unconstitutional".
It has again demanded the immediate release of the 32 hostages, including Prime Minister Mahendra Chaudhry, who have been held prisoner by gunmen in Parliament since last Friday morning.
The majority of the hostages, 17, are indigenous Fijians.
"The call for the dissolution of an elected Parliament and the appointment of an interim government are unequivocally unconstitutional," said acting leader of the Fiji Labour Party-led "people's coalition" government, Ratu Tevita Momoedonu.
"They are therefore absolutely unacceptable to the party, just as they are to the people of Fiji and the international community.
"There cannot be any political solution negotiated while the elected government, including the prime minister, remain in captivity."
He said international constitutional experts had made it "abundantly clear" that the President's powers did not extend to the replacement of the democratically elected government and prime minister in the way proposed.
In addition, the constitutional powers of the Great Council of Chiefs did not extend beyond appointment of the President and 14 members of the Senate, he said.
Ratu Tevita also said a delegation of the elected coalition government held talks with Commonwealth Secretary-General Don McKinnon and the special envoy of the United Nations Secretary-General, Sergio Vieira de Mello, on Wednesday.
"The strong and unwavering positions taken by both organisations in relation to the actions of the terrorist group led by [George] Speight is a source of great encouragement," Ratu Tevita said.
The UN Secretary General, Koffi Annan, said his representatives had warned the chiefs that the Security Council would act if Fiji allowed the racially-motivated coup to succeed.
"And (we) did indicate to them that the international community and the UN will not accept a military takeover in Fiji - and we are living in an era that this sort of behavior is not going to be tolerated - and tried to dissuade him," he said.
"From developments obviously they haven't succeeded and I'm expecting a detailed report from Mr Sergio De Mello."
Both Australian Prime Minister John Howard and Foreign Minister Alexander Downer condemned the chiefs for bowing to "an act of terrorism" in Fiji.
Radio Fiji quoted Downer today as saying the resolutions offered to rebel leader Speight were "foolishness".
"The last thing the Great Council of Chiefs should be doing is caving into an act of terror," he said.
New Zealand's Foreign Affairs Minister, Phil Goff, has appealed to Fijian authorities to bring in outside negotiators to end the country's hostage crisis.
Goff said Fiji's first priority must be to free Prime Minister Chaudhry and his ministers.
The Foreign Minister said New Zealand has offered Fiji's Police Commissioner, Isikia Savua, its experience and expertise in police negotiations, but that had been declined.
Goff warned there had to be negotiation or the lives of the hostages would be jeopardised.
New Zealand has consistently ruled out an armed response to the crisis.
Yesterday afternoon, armed soldiers were forced to back off in an ugly stand-off with rebel gunmen outside the Parliament grounds.
The gunmen were aggressive in confronting the soldiers to allow supporters in defiance of a ban on any more people going through the barricades.
According to the Fiji Times today: "One of Speight's men grabbed a soldier by the collar, jabbed him in the chin and began pushing the 14 armed soldiers around.
"The soldiers were outnumbered and the crowd, which could have turned into a lynch mob, started to close in."