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Military Commander Says Speight Will Go Free

See updates and pictures: http://www.usp.ac.fj/journ / (temporarily offline)

© USP journalism programme

SUVA: Fiji's rebel leader George Speight has committed a "criminal act" in seizing the elected government hostage but will go free, says military commander Commodore Frank Bainimarama.

Speaking on BBC World television, Commodore Bainimarama said: "George Speight led a criminal act."

He added that the military could not be seen to be negotiating with the rebels, saying it would damage the credibility of the Royal Fiji Military Forces which was well-known for its international peacekeeping role.

However, a four member military negotiating team yesterday had a meeting with Speight's negotiation group at the Pacific Theological College yesterday in what was described by the rebels as "fruitful and progressive" talks.

Former military commander Ratu Epeli Nailatikau was named by the military authorities as the proposed prime minister to the head the interim military government's council of ministers.

Other ministers were expected to be named this morning.

Ratu Epeli, son of former Deputy Prime Minister Ratu Edward Cakobau, headed the military when Sitiveni Rabuka ousted the Labour-led coalition government of Dr Timoci Bavadra in 1987.

He is married to Adi Koila, who was former Tourism Minister and is still held hostage along with about 30 other members of the Chaudhry government. She is the daughter of the President, Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara.

On BBC World, Commodore Bainimarama said the amnesty promised to Speight had been made by the president - who stood aside when martial law was declared and the military took over power on Monday night - seven days earlier and he would honour that pledge.

Asked if this meant that Speight would go free over the kidnapping of the government, Commodore Bainimarama replied yes.

But he added: "I'm sorry to say that."

New Zealand Foreign Minister Phil Goff said on the same news programme that this was "totally unpalatable", adding that it was a well recognised principle never to negotiate or give concessions to terrorists.

"Every demand has been complied with and he [Speight] still wants more," Goff said.

Goff said the real power struggle was between indigenous Fijian groups and "ultimately, Indians will be the final victims".

The Daily Post today reported that five of Speight's gunmen, including a self-styled minister, Simione Kaitani, had been arrested and beaten up by soldiers and police on Monday night.

One of those arrested was treated at the Colonial War Memorial Hospital for a fractured nose he suffered in the beatings.

Three of the arrested men were reported to be members of the elite First Meridian Squadron who took part in the seizure of Parliament on May 19.

A government spokesman told the Daily Post: "Those arrested got what they deserved."

Speight's media spokesman Jo Nata was also among those arrested and the detained men are reported to be locked up in cells at the Central Police Station, Suva.

+++niuswire

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