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Wounded Rebel Names Chiefs

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Wounded Rebel Names Chiefs, Army Officer Behind Mutiny

* See earlier reports online: http://www.usp.ac.fj/journ/docs/news/nius3081shoot.html

Staff Reporters USP's Pacific Journalism Online

SUVA: Three members of Fiji's Great Council of Chiefs and a senior army officer have been identified by a wounded rebel as the masterminds behind Thursday's mutiny against military chief Commodore Frank Bainimarama, the Sunday Post reports today.

And great council chairman Sitiveni Rabuka, the 1987 coup leader and former prime minister, will be questioned about his alleged role in the attempted takeover of the military headquarters which left eight soldiers dead from the gunbattle for control.

A prison fugitive, Alifereti Nimacere, who had earlier joined the rebels, died after being shot by soldiers at a house on the outskirts of Suva on Friday night.

An inquiry has been pledged by authorities to probe allegations of human rights violations leading to his death.

According to the Sunday Times, Rabuka has been banned from entering any military base or facility in the country.

The army stopped Rabuka's car as it left the Queen Elizabeth Barracks in suburban Nabua on Thursday night after his failed mediation attempt because one of the suspected rebel officers wanted by the military was a passenger.

But Rabuka denied any involvement in the failed military takeover and told the newspaper he had been asked to negotiate for the release of hostages.

The Sunday Post splashed four front page photographs of alleged masterminds with their faces blacked out under the headline "Four mutiny masters known".

"Who are they? Mutiny plotters ... for obvious reasons we cannot show their faces but you are welcome to guess," said the photo caption.

According to the newspaper, the four unnamed plotters were identified by a rebel soldier who "sang for his dinner when questioned at the Colonial War Memorial Hospital".

The four wanted to "neutralise the commander" so that investigations against them would be weakened with another person as military chief.

Official army spokesperson Major Howard Politini did not comment on the newspaper's report, but the Sunday Post said "reliable government sources" confirmed the military had identified the four and Commodore Bainimarama was aware of the events that led to the mutiny.

The newspaper quoted an unnamed official as saying: "The plan to overthrow Commodore Bainimarama was hatched at a house in Laucala Beach Estate in Suva on Wednesday night.

"The soldiers were informed of that decision soon after and the rest is now history."

The official told the newspaper two of the great council chiefs were known supporters of coup leader George Speight who led the May 19 rebellion and is now detained on Nukulau Island on treason charges.

The other was said to have played a role during the takeover of Parliament and seizure of the elected government as hostages.

The military has seized under house arrest members of the elite First Meridian Squadron, formerly known as the Counter Revolutionary Warfare unit, who were not identified as part of the group who mutinied.

Two officers claimed to have led the revolt are also held by the military - decommissioned intelligence lieutenant Serpepeli Dakai and Captain Shane Stevens, the officer appointed by Commodore Bainimarama after the May 19 coup with orders to disband the FMS unit.

Captain Stevens was wounded in the chest and has been transferred from CWM hospital to the medical unit in the military camp.

Major Politini said about 40 FMS soldiers had been involved in the mutiny - about half of the unit.

Eight soldiers from the unit who were formerly facing treason charges were released from military custody two weeks ago.

Between 12 and 15 rebel soldiers who fled are still being sought.

The Sunday Times today harshly condemned the military in an editorial, saying that once internationally respected as peacekeeping force, it now had "murderers and traitors" among its ranks.

"People of this nation and and indeed the international community are witnessing this once respected institution reduced to a disgruntled group of men who who will not think twice before killing and maiming their own comrades," the paper said.

"Once a proud flagbearer of the nation on the international scene, both in times of war and peace, the Fijian army is now tainted with military coups, sedition, hostage-taking, murder and mutiny in its ranks.

"And it all became worse when Bainimarama took over as its commander. This is not to suggest that he is incapable of leading the army.

"He may well have become unpopular because he is a strict disciplinarian."

Meanwhile, the military has brushed aside reported claims by New Zealand Foreign Minister Phil Goff that former military spokesperson Lieutenant-Colonel Filipo Tarakinikini was behind the mutineers because he wanted the commander's position.

The Sunday Sun said Major Politini refused to answer questions by a New Zealand journalist on the issue, and was quoted as saying: "I will not answer questions on comments by people who are far away and never really helped in our rebuilding process.

"This incident is just a small hitch that is confined to the military.

"And these people have always worked against Fiji's efforts to rebuild."

A local radio station reported that Lieutenant-Colonel Tarakinikini had threatened to file a lawsuit against Goff for alleged defamation.

+++niuswire


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