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Fiji Military Hunt Renegades After Failed Mutiny

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By David Robie USP's Pacific Journalism Online

SUVA: Loyalist Fiji troops were early today searching bush areas in the suburbs of the capital of Suva for renegade special force soldiers who failed to kidnap the military commander in yesterday's mutiny in the main barracks.

Six soldiers from the elite Counter Revolutionary Warfare unit fled in a van from Queen Elizabeth Barracks and were believed to be hiding in bushland in the seaside township of Lami and at least 20 others were pursued by troops in a gully near the military camp last night.

Military spokesman Major Howard Politini today confirmed that eight soldiers had been killed in the shootout at the barracks yesterday afternoon and in an assault on the military headquarters last night by forces loyal to the commander, Commodore Frank Bainimarama.

He said the renegades were "armed and dangerous" and military authorities extended the curfew in the Suva and Nausori areas until 6am tomorrow to assist the search.

Five junior officers held hostage in the officer's mess were freed unharmed by the loyalist troops who stormed the barracks about 6.20pm with heavy artillery fire.

Three loyalist soldiers and five rebels were killed. At least 10 were wounded and there were reports of up to nine civilians being treated at the Colonial War Memorial Hospital for wounds from stray bullets.

Major Politini said on Radio Fiji that many of the wounded soldiers, including a woman, had been "defenceless and unarmed" at the time the rebels opened fire with M16 and K2 rifles about 1pm yesterday.

But he did not comment on questions by the radio on allegations that some of the rebels had been beaten to death after being wounded.

Interim Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase of the military-installed administration pledged in a nation-wide broadcast last night that justice would be done after the "act of insurrection".

He also appealed for support from the nation for his administration.

"You have my word that justice will be done," he said, paying tribute to the soldiers who died in putting down the mutiny.

Qarase had just returned to Fiji yesterday from the South Pacific Forum leaders meeting in Kiribati.

Fiji's President, Ratu Josefa Iloilo, is in Australia undergoing a medical review. Iloilo had refused to hand over executive authority to his deputy, Ratu Jope Seniloli, while Seniloli is under police investigation for his alleged role in the May coup.

Radio Fiji said the the mutiny had been staged by a different group of the CRW unit than the soldiers who had taken part in the May 19 coup led by failed businessman George Speight.

The rebels had been disenchanted with the military leadership and the treatment of the renegades in the May putsch.

Eight CRW soldiers who took part in the coup and were expected to be court martialled were released from military custody last week. They returned to duties this week.

Major Politini admitted on Radio Fiji that the military had "erred" in freeing the renegade soldiers.

The radio, quoting military sources, said the rebels quickly joined their colleagues in the attempt to take over the barracks' main armoury.

But they failed to kidnap Commodore Bainimarama as they seized junior officers lunching in the officers' mess.

He escaped from the barracks with bodyguards and later visited wounded soldiers in the hospital.

The demands of the rebels were unclear.

The rebels were reportedly led by a Lieutenant Cakai.

The CRW unit was set up by 1987 coup leader Sitiveni Rabuka as an elite force to protect the government.

Some CRW soldiers trained on Rabuka’s farm on the northern island of Vanua Levu before seizing the Parliament compound on May 19 and holding the elected government hostage for 56 days.

However, former prime minister Rabuka denied in interviews any knowledge that his farm had been used for the training.

Rabuka had been asked by the mutinous soldiers to mediate between them and the military high command. But Commodore Bainimarama refused to negotiate and opted for an attack on the barracks.

Speight and his accused coup ringleaders are detained at a makeshift prison on the island of Nukulau off the coast of Suva awaiting trial on treason charges.


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