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Citizens Forum Cautious Over President's Gesture

SUVA: Fiji's Citizens Constitutional Forum today welcomed the call by President Ratu Josefa Iloilo for a board of inquiry to investigate the May insurrection, but warned against any "cosmetic gesture".

The timing of the President's call coincided with a three-day fact-finding mission to Fiji by the European Union which began yesterday.

The forum had earlier called for an investigation into interim Information Minister Ratu Inoke Kubuabola's alleged role in the overthrow of the elected government.

Kubuabola described the claims of his involvement as a "baseless personal attack" in a letter published today in the Fiji Times.

The Fiji Times reported that the President would appoint a board of inquiry into the crisis which would investigate why the country's security forces allowed the coup to happen.

According to the newspaper, the board "will establish the real motives behind the coup and ensure that a strategy for better security and intelligence is implemented to avoid any such occurrence in future".

In a statement today by the citizens forum's executive director, Rev Akuila Yabaki said: "The inquiry will depend for its international credibility on its independence and in-built measures of transparency.

"An independent inquiry cannot be achieved if the membership is made up of institutions such as the military and the police, since senior members of these institutions were themselves implicated in the events leading up to the May 19 coup and its aftermath.

"You can't have the 'poacher turned game-keeper', carrying out investigation and expect the outcome to pass the test of transparency."

Rev Yabaki suggested that the Ombudsman, Justice Sailosi Kepa, could be a member - or even head the investigation.

Justice Kepa's statement was one of the first denouncing the coup.

One or two local and international lawyers should be invited to be members, said Rev Yabaki.

A civil society representative should also be invited.

"The investigation must be independent and also transparent for all to believe that it is an authentic attempt to deal with the national tragedy," said Rev Yabaki.

In a submission to the fact-finding mission yesterday, the Fiji Council of Social Services director Hasan Khan said the takeover of government by armed rebels was an act on behalf of "defeated politicians, failed business people and the corrupt rich".

He asked the delegation to recommend to the EU that assistance be directed through civil society organisations and its umbrella group FCSS.

"To date there has been no announcement by the government or anyone on how victims of violence and terror would be helped or compensated," Khan said.

He added that the 1997 constitution was the ideal framework for future economic, social and general wellbeing of all Fiji citizens.

Ends

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