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Rebel Faces Charges In Wounding Of Cameraman

SUVA (PMW): The Fiji Islands High Court has overturned a ruling by the Magistrates Court which set free a rebel who had been charged with three counts of attempted murder, including one against a British television journalist during the May insurrection, according to news reports.

The Fiji Times reported on 3 October 2000 that rebel Isoa Karawa was now likely to face the three attempted murder charges and a further count of possession of firearms, pending an appeal by his lawyer Kelemedi Bulewa.

The charges relate to a confrontation between rebels and soldiers on May 27 which resulted in the wounding of two soldiers and a cameraman working for the American agency Associated Press Television News (APTN), Jerry Harmer.

The cameraman was among a number of international and local journalists covering the May 19 rebellion in which the elected government of Prime Minister Mahendra Chaudhry was seized at gunpoint and held hostage for 56 days.

Harmer was shot in the arm while he taped the confrontation between approximately 150 coup supporters and about a dozen government troops.

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

At the time, rebel leader George Speight denied responsibility for the media's safety, saying journalists were covering events "at their own risk."

According to the Fiji Times, High Court Judge Peter Surman rejected Bulewa's attempts to describe the rebel's alleged actions as a "political offence" over which state prosecutors had no powers.

"This would be a distorted and entirely inappropriate description," said Judge Surman.

Judge Surman's ruling also referred to the Immunity Decree and the Muanikau Accord, signed on July 9, which in his words were "inextricably linked".

He ruled that the decree was invalid because one of the key conditions for immunity, the full return of arms, had not been met, reported the Fiji Times.

Justice Surman's ruling has implications for coup leader Speight and 20 other rebels who are detained at a makeshift prison on Nukulau island on treason charges. Defence lawyers have been arguing that they should be set free under the decree.

However, some legal sources say the judge's ruling is a "pyrrhic victory".

"The judge did not address the significant issue - does the accord in the first place have legal standing or validity?," said one legal source. "Can the commander of the Fiji Military Forces unilaterally draw up an accord after unilaterally revoking the 1997 Constitution?"

+++niuswire

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