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Senior rebel officer meets military deadline

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SUVA: A senior military officer and two other soldiers backing Fiji rebel leader George Speight today heeded the army ultimatum and returned to barracks.

Lieutenant Colonel Ratu Viliame Volavola marched into Queen Elizabeth barracks this afternoon after the Fiji Military Forces issued a deadline to all army officers to return to camp, reported Pacnews.

National radio reports said a further two officers had also met the deadline.

Lt Colonel Volavola, a member of the Fijian Association Party, had been part of Speight's self-styled "Taukei Civilian government" with portfolio responsibility for housing, urban development and environment.

Military commander Commodore Frank Bainimarama had issued a deadline to all military personnel in Parliament to return to the military headquarters by 3pm today or have their commissions cancelled.

An estimated 19 soldiers were believed to still be in the complex.

Pacnews reported that it understood six senior army officers were part of Speight's rebel group.

They were named as Lieutenant Colonel Metuisela Mua, former head of Fiji's Intelligence Service which was disbanded by the Chaudhry government; Lt Colonel Tevita Bukarau; Major Josefa Savua, younger brother of Police Commissioner Isikia Savua; Major Ilisoni Ligairi; and Lieutenant Rakuita Vakalalabure.

Many businesses and institutions awaited the 3pm deadline with nervousness - the University of the South Pacific informed its staff that they could leave their offices for home at lunchtime.

The Fiji Sun reported that former Prime Minister Mahendra Chaudhry, imprisoned with at least 31 other hostages since May 19, was likely to be asked to lead a proposed breakaway "western government".

According to Navoci village chief Ratu Jone Ravetale, chiefs in the western division of Viti Levu island wanted a democratically elected government and the Chaudhy-led "people's coalition" was the "perfect one to run its affairs".

"We want his team to take care of the west," he told the Fiji Sun.

Ratu Jone, who is also part of the Tui Ba's delegation which announced the idea of a western government in Viseisei at the weekend said the chiefs and the people of the west could not afford to see the toppling of the democratically elected government.

In an editorial, the Fiji Sun said the military had given given Speight an ultimatum.

"Release members of the Chaudhry government and return all weapons to the FMF. All these for immunity," it said.

"There is a deadlock in talks ...

"There is no doubt about the fact that sacrifices will have to be made. They [Speight and the rebels] will obviously not take this lying down.

"What happens then?"

The newspaper appealed to Fiji Islanders to consider solutions to end the crisis - "it is time for the people of this nation to stand up to be counted."

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