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Two Die, Nine Wounded In Mutiny

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By Viliame Tikotani and Evan Wasuka USP's Pacific Journalism Online

SUVA: Two soldiers are dead and nine wounded following a shootout today at Fiji's main military barracks on the outskirts of the capital of Suva, army sources reported today.

The wounded reportedly included a woman officer.

Forces loyal to military commander Commodore Frank Bainimarama were trying to put down the mutiny at the Queen Elizabeth Barracks in suburban Nabua sparked by renegade soldiers who took part in the May putsch led by failed businessman George Speight.

Loyal forces took up positions around the barracks and sealed off the main corridor route from Suva to the airport town of Nausori.

The rebel soldiers from the elite Counter-Revolutionary Warfare unit tried to seize the military high command at lunchtime and were reported to be holding hostages, according to local radio reports.

Shooting broke out about 1pm and continued until late this afternoon. About 100 people fled the barracks with their belonginings as families in the married quarters sought safety.

Questioned by Radio FM96 about the shooting, military spokesman Major Howard Politini said there was "something wrong" at the barracks.

Although he did not explain further, a press conference was expected late this afternoon and a curfew has been imposed from 8pm to 5am.

Eleven wounded soldiers - most of them officers - were taken to the Colonial War Memorial Hospital in central Suva and two later died from their wounds.

FM96 reporter, Kavaia Damu, who was stationed at the CWM hospital, said most of the soldiers were believed to be wounded in the legs while one officer in critical condition was believed to be shot near the eye and the chest.

He reportedly died later.

According to FM96, an unnamed military officer confirmed to the radio station in a telephone call that the CRW men attempted to seize the barracks while the officers were having lunch.

The officer said that the CRW men were currently detaining some officers and had appealed to all Fiji military officers from lieutenant to colonel ranks to go to the barracks for "negotiations".

According to radio reports, Commodore Bainimarama had escaped from the military barracks unhurt.

He was seen by local residents emerging from the bush with personal bodyguards. He was rushed into a four-wheel-drive vehicle and driven to safety.

The renegade soldiers had been released last month by the Fiji High Court on charges over their role in the May 19 seizure of Parliament and holding of the elected government hostage for 56 days. They were expected to face a court martial.

Coup leader George Speight and some of his fellow alleged plotters are being detained on treason charges at a makeshift prison on Nukulau island off the coast of Suva.

There have been rumours in Fiji for weeks of a major split within the military and possible further coup attempt.

Three media staff employed by the state-owned Radio Fiji were detained by troops on October 20 over a broadcast report about unrest in the military.


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