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Rebel Lawyer Says Hostages' Safety At Risk

SUVA: A rebel lawyer claims the fate of the hostages in Fiji will be "beyond the control of those rebels in power" if their demands are not met, the Fiji Sun reported today.

The veiled threat was made by Ratu Tevita Bukarau, a legal representative and negotiator for rebel leader George Speight's group when addressing a delegation of western chiefs who met at the Fijian Resort yesterday.

But claims about other named contenders as the armed force's preferred President were rejected as "outright lies" by military commander, Commodore Frank Bainimarama.

A 24-hour deadline set by the military to accept to the Muanikau Accord agreed to on Friday expired yesterday and Bainimarama will now press ahead with forming its own interim government leading to an election in two years.

"We had asked them not to do that [ultimatum] because we won't be in control of the problems that will arise as a result of them setting up their own government," he told chiefs at the meeting.

The talks were chaired by Ratu Osea Gavidi, a western chief and member of the Great Council of Chiefs' subcommittee that was liaising with Speight's group, the Fiji Sun reported.

Ratu Osea earlier told the chiefs that there were other contenders for the position of President proposed by the military but he was not at liberty to say who they were.

However, Ratu Tevita revealed two of the names - GCC chairman Sitiveni Rabuka and Ratu Jone Madraiwiwi, a High Court judge and chief.

It is understood the other two names wewre that of the Tui Vuda, Ratu Josefa Iloilo, and Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara, whose position as President had not been clarified according to the Speight group.

"Those are downright lies and I'm not going to be drawn into their politics," Commodore Bainimarama told the Fiji Sun.

The Daily Post reported today that Ratu Josefa - the demanded choice of the Speight group - had declined to be considered for President.

The newspaper quoted military spokesperson Lieutenant-Colonel Filipo Tarakinikini as saying: "Ratu Iloilo doesn't want his name mentioned as a candidate."

The Post also reported under a front page banner headline that trade bans against the Fiji Islands had been called off.

This came after the Fiji Trades Union Congress agreed to work with the military, the churches, the private sector and non-government organisations to find a constitutional resolution for the political impasse.

Instead of requesting trade bans by overseas countries, the FTUC had agreed that the crisis could be solved within the framework of the 1997 constitution, the paper said.

"We fully support attempts made by the army to resolve the present crisis and we reiterate that all attempts should be made within the framework of the 1997 constitution," FTUC general secretary Felix Anthony said.

The broad coalition of groups yesterday made a presentation to Commodore Bainimarama pledging support and calling for urgent steps to find a solution.

+++niuswire

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