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Australian Minister Issues Statement on Fiji

Statement by Australian
Minister for Foreign Affairs, Alexander Downer

The Government is relieved by the long overdue release of all remaining hostages in Fiji but condemns the apparent consolidation of unconstitutional and undemocratic rule in that country.

On 29 May I announced the Government would take a range of measures against Fiji in the event of an unacceptable outcome to the coup. Those measures will now be implemented with immediate effect.

Australia's High Commissioner to Fiji, Ms Susan Boyd, will be recalled for consultations.

Government-to-government cooperation under the Australia-Fiji Trade and Economic Relations Agreement (AFTERA) will be suspended. We are prepared to continue with the Import Credit Scheme (ICS) although it has only two months to run. A successor scheme will only be put in place if there is a clear indication that Fiji is prepared to return to democracy.

Most non-humanitarian aid activities will be terminated including all new scholarships and training and the following public sector projects: the Mineral Resources Department Project, the Fiji Customs Service Project, the Fiji Civil Service Reform Project, the National Planning Office Project, the Fiji Bureau of Statistics Project, and the UNDP/Australia Information Services for Parliamentarians.

The Pacific Technical Advisory Facility will also be terminated with respect to Fiji (advisers currently with Fiji Government departments will be withdrawn). The next intake of Australian Youth Ambassadors to Fiji, scheduled for July, has been postponed indefinitely. This represents a cut of around 30 per cent to our bilateral aid program to Fiji.

On the defence side, all naval ship visits, senior officer visits and joint military exercises have been suspended. A number of Australian defence advisers will also be withdrawn.

Nor can Fiji expect its role as a regional headquarters to be unaffected. We shall also be encouraging the practice - which is already in evidence - of transferring regional meetings to other venues.

We do not wish to have Fiji national sporting teams play in Australia. We shall be encouraging the British Government to urge the UK organisers of this year's Rugby League World Cup to find a replacement for Fiji.

The Government will, however, naturally honour its general obligation to SOCOG to allow the entry of Fiji Olympic family members (i.e. athletes and officials) for the Sydney Olympics.

As I said on 29 May, the Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs has cancelled Mr Speight's visa. Any application for entry by other individuals involved in the hostage taking will be considered in light of those actions.

Despite the current gloomy prognosis, Australia will continue to press for an early return to constitutional rule in Fiji within the framework of the 1997 Constitution and will be watching very closely the path taken by the new interim civilian administration.

Fiji now has a clear choice: return quickly to democracy or forego indefinitely its former place as a valued and respected member of the international community.

My Department's current travel advice urges Australians to defer all travel to Fiji until further notice. In view of recent developments, Australians in all parts of Fiji should consider departing the country temporarily using currently available commercial means.

Media contacts:
* Matt Francis (Ministerial) (00612) 6277-7500
* Julie McDonald (Departmental) (00612) 6261-1555

[Source: FA82 - 18/7/00 Fiji]

The Minister's Media Releases are available at www.dfat.gov.au or go to www.australia.org.nz.

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