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Army acted after President threatened

The military operation conducted this morning against the supporters of nationalist rebel George Speight came after threats made against the president, Ratu Josefa Iloilo.

Lt Colonel Filipo Tarakinikini said the crackdown was also because the rebels had created a climate of fear in Kalabu, where they were robbing, harassing and threatening people.

The raid followed last night's capture of Speight, his media advisor Josefa Nata, legal advisor Tevita Bukarau and a bodyguard at the Laqere checkpoint.

The assault on the Kalabu Fijian school, where the rebels were holed, resulted in the arrest of 369 people, including the commander of the rebels, former SAS soldier, Ilisoni Ligairi, former soldier Joe Savua and 12 members of the Meridian Squadron.

"They are all under our care at the moment," said Tarakinikini.

A 50-year-old man died from a combination of suffocation through tear gas and physical injuries inflicted by the soldiers. Forty people were treated at the Colonial War memorial Hospital, with seven seriously injured. There were no gunshot injuries.

Tarakinikini said there was immense pressure being put on the head of state that if he did not agree to a certain government line-up, there would be further instability. His life was also threatened.

Tarakinikini said this was in breach the Muanikau peace accord signed between the rebels and military, under which it was agreed that the president would exercise his judgement and prerogative to choose the interim administration and that both sides would abide by it.

"The accord had the seeds to the solution of this crisis if it had been allowed to be implemented in the spirit of trust it was signed," Tarakinikini said. Not all the weapons had been surrendered as stipulated under the accord either.

"They are being used as a means of instilling fear and insecurity in our citizens. The Head of State is being put under duress and the country is in a fortress type situation with people afraid to come out of their homes and sending their children to school. We cannot allow the situation to continue."

Asked if the military had considered that the raid and arrests might lead to further unrest and the setting up of road blocks and takeovers, Tarakinikini said the arrest of the leaders who had been instigating these campaigns should put a stop to these. "We are going to the root of the problem in arresting the people directly responsible."

He said all the rebels demands had been met, including the removal of the Mahendra Chaudhry government and the abrogation of the 1997 constitution. Their continued agitation, including the take over of the Kalabu Fijian school, depriving indigenous Fijians of education had caused people to question their motives, as had the desecration of parliament, with two tabuas and the ceremonial war club of Ratu Seru Cakobau missing. "If this is all done in the name of indigenous Fijian aspirations, then it is a shame on us Fijians if we let this carry on."

Tarakinikini said the raid was a normal military operation. "We are going after people who we believe have broken the law. He said because the situation had gotten out of hand, the army had taken over from the police, who would get back on the beat once the weapons are recovered.
Under the emergency decree, those arrested can be detained indefinitely. Tarakinikini emphasised that the rebels would be treated fairly.

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