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Rebel Accused In Cameraman Shooting Acquitted

* Pacific Media Watch Online:
http://www.pmw.c2o.org

SUVA (PMW): Fiji's Sunday Times newspaper has appealed to rebels to hand over remaining guns at large in a criticism over the decree which has allowed the acquittal of a rebel accused over a shooting incident in which a British cameraman was wounded.

In an editorial on 23 July 200, the Sunday Times said it was important for rebels to do this so "the amnesty for all their supporters comes into force".

An Amnesty Decree signed by the military commander, Commodore Frank Bainimarama, waived prosecution for all people accused of committing political crimes between May 19 - when Parliament was stormed by armed rebels - and July 13.

This decree was gazetted after the signing of Muanikau Accord on July 10 by Bainimarama on behalf of the military and rebel leader George Speight.

The accord, ending the hostage crisis in which the rebels had held the elected multiracial government of Prime Minister Mahendra Chaudhry captive in Parliament, stipulated that a pre-condition for amnesty was the return of all weapons to the Republic of Fiji Military Forces (RFMF).

While most weapons have been returned, the military says there are a substantial number of arms still at large.

On July 21, a rebel, Isoa Raceva Karawa, was acquitted on charges of illegal possession of firearms and three counts of attempted murder over a skirmish outside Parliament on May 27. Three wounded soldiers were taken to hospital, and a rebel and British television cameraman Jerry Harmer were also wounded.

In freeing Karawa, Chief Magistrate Salesi Temo said the Immunity Decree stated that any person assembled with Speight who carried out an illegal act would be pardoned by the courts.

Harmer, a cameraman for Associated Press Television News, was shot in the arm while he taped an armed confrontation between approximately 150 coup supporters and about a dozen government troops.

Harmer earlier reported that a rebel soldier had pointed his gun at a group of journalists before firing once and hitting him. Harmer was treated at Colonial War Memorial Hospital in Suva, then flown to Australia for recuperation.

The Sunday Times editorial said: "No amount of legal wrangling will repair the immense damage done by the precedent set when Karava was allowed to go free."

Fiji's Daily Post on July 24 quoted military spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Filipo Tarakinikini as saying rebels - including Speight - could not be granted amnesty because all arms had not been returned to barracks.

The granting of amnesty under the Muanikau Accord was "conditional on the return of arms, ordinance and stores to the Republic of Fiji Military Forces", he said.

+++niuswire

PACIFIC MEDIA WATCH ONLINE: http://www.pmw.c2o.org

PACIFIC MEDIA WATCH is an independent, non-profit, non-government organisation comprising journalists, lawyers, editors and other media workers, dedicated to examining issues of ethics, accountability, censorship, media freedom and media ownership in the Pacific region. Launched in October 1996, it has links with the Journalism Program at the University of the South Pacific, Bushfire Media, the Australian Centre for Independent Journalism, and Pactok Communications, in Sydney and Port Moresby.

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