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FIJI: Military Storm Rebels - 1 Dead, 32 Wounded

SUVA: Fiji military forces today stormed the rebel headquarters at a school on the outskirts of Suva and seized leaders of the insurrection in what the army described as a "mopping up" operation.

Military spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Filipe Tarakinikini told Radio Fiji that one rebel had been killed and 32 were wounded with no casualties among the soldiers.

He said that the rebel strategist, Colonel Ilisoni Ligairi, and the police commissioner's brother, Major Josefa Savua, were among those captured by troops.

Tarakinikini said the military action had been taken about 6.15 am against the remnants of rebel leader George Speight's gang because they had bee "terrorising the residents in the area" and stealing money and goods from shops.

He also said on Radio Fiji there had been a death threat yesterday against the interim President, Ratu Josefa Iloilo.

The president had been expected to name a new interim government yesterday and is now expected to name it today.

Tarakinikini said this morning's attack was part of a series of "mopping up" operations planned for the next few days to end the lawlessness in the country and return Fiji to normalcy.

"We cannot allow a group to use the name of indigenous rights for their own selfish ends," Tarakinikini said.

He said Speight's gang had "brought shame to the name of Fiji".

But he pledged that the interim government would address the grievances over indigenous rights throughout the country.

Late last night, Speight, two of his key advisers and a bodyguard were arrested by troops at a checkpoint near the rebel headquarters, Kalabu Fijian School

The four were seized under martial law which means they can be detained longer than 24 hours before charges are made.

Tarakinikini said they had been arrested after soldiers stopped them at the Laqere bridge checkpoint when they were carrying arms in violation of the Muanikau accord.

The terms of the amnesty under the accord - which granted Speight and his followers immunity for crimes linked with the May 19 insurrection - did not apply as the rebels had not handed all weapons to the military after the end of the 60-day Parliament siege.

Speight signed the accord with the military commander, Commodore Frank Bainimarama, two weeks ago.

"The Immunity Decree called for the release of all hostages, and the return of all weapons to the military," Tarakinikini said.

Tarakinikini also said there had been many reports of lawlessness and harassment by the rebels in the area near Kalabu School.

"Mr Speight was travelling with arms and bodyguards. This is illegal. We cannot allow private militia to run the country," he said on local radio.

Education Ministry authorities closed schools today in Nasinu, near the rebel area, according to Radio Fiji.

Speight was arrested with his lawyer, Tevita Bukurau, media adviser Jo Nata and his personal bodyguard, known only as Cakau, at the Laqere bridge along the road corridor from Suva to the airport town of Nausori.

Tarakinikini said Speight and his bodyguards had been sighted several times travelling around Suva with arms.

A witness told the Fiji Sun the four failed to stop at the Nausori end of the bridge when asked to get out by soldiers.

"Shots were fired before the four were asked to get out of their four-wheel-drive vehicle," the paper quoted the witness as saying.

"They were later escorted to the army camp at Nabua where they are now under arrest."

Tarakinikini confirmed Speight was under arrest "in a cell up at Nabua".

+++niuswire

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