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Four Women Hostages Released

Four Women Hostages Released

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SUVA: The four women members of Mahendra Chaudhry's elected government held hostage in Fiji's Parliament for the past five weeks have been released, according to media reports early today.

A Fiji Live report said the four were former Minister for Tourism Adi Koila Mara Nailatikau, Lavenia Padarath (Minister for Women), Marieta Rigamoto (Assistant Minister for Agriculture) and backbencher Akanisi Koroitamana.

Adi Koila is also daughter of the ousted President, Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara, and is married to a former military commander, Ratu Epeli Nailatikau.

The women were released just after midnight.

Still held hostage are 27 more members of the Chaudhry government.

Rebel leader George Speight's media spokesperson Jo Nata told Radio Fiji that releasing the women captives proved that they were not using the hostages as a bargaining tool.

A hostage trauma centre has been set up in the capital of Suva in Gorrie Street, between the Red Cross and Suva Motor Inn. It is expected all hostages when released will be taken there.

Ms Padarath attended a church service this morning at Butt Street church.

The Sunday Post reported that the military council, under the leadership of Commodore Frank Bainimarama, will hold continue to hold executive power for three more months, according to the Muanikau Accord which is now expected to be signed later today.

But the Sunday Times reported that rebel gunmen chief Ilisoni Ligairi said the hostages would only be released when a Fijian administration was set up to govern the country.

Rebel leader George Speight's group had earlier said the hostages would only be released after a traditional ceremony seeking forgiveness from the hostages.

This could take up to 24 hours after the accord is signed.

Veteran soldier Ligairi - known in military circles here as the "invisible man" and "Mr White" because of his hair - is the rebel believed to be partly responsible for the delay in the signing of the accord yesterday.

He told the Sunday Times the freeing of the hostages would be the last step in a sequence of events to follow the signing.

First, he said, the rebels wanted to see a President sworn in to appoint a Fijian administration.

When other issues, such as amnesty and the return of arms to the military barracks in suburban Nabua were sorted out, Ligairi would then talk to the hostages to "mend the relationship" between the rebels and the captives.

Speight's supporters would also be told of the decision.

This process, said the former member of Britain's elite Special Air Service regiment, could take a day or two.

"I would probably call it the Fijian way of doing things," Ligairi told the Sunday Times.

"We are hostage takers and the last thing to be done is the release of the hostages. This will only happen after our demands are met."

During the three months that the military council will stay in control, a Great Council of Chiefs meeting will be convened to appoint a President, according to the Sunday Post.

The President, in consultation with the military council, will then appoint an interim administration to run the affairs of state for the next 21 months.

+++niuswire

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