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Nimacere Dies As Military Crackdown Continues

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By David Robie USP's Pacific Journalism Online

SUVA: Notorious prison fugitive Alifereti Nimacere has died after being captured by Fiji military forces hunting rebel soldiers on the run after Thursday's mutiny, military authorities confirmed today.

Nimacere, wanted for the murder of a soldier and a policeman in an ambush of a security forces patrol in August, was captured near Lami late last night after being in hiding for more than three months.

He had escaped from Naboro prison in the wake of the May 19 coup staged by failed businessmen George Speight and renegade soldiers from the elite Counter Revolutionary Warfare (CRW) unit.

Military spokesperson Major Howard Politini confirmed on Radio Fiji today that shots had been fired as Nimacere tried to resist arrest and he died less than three hours later.

Three more rebel special forces soldiers had surrendered, he said.

Loyal government troops now need to recapture about a dozen renegades.

"It is a very sad state of affairs," Major Politini said as the nation today came to terms with the shock of the rebellion in the main military barracks which left eight soldiers dead and 28 people wounded, including seven civilians.

He said the death toll, which included three loyal soldiers and five rebels, could not be compared with peacekeeping duties in the Lebanon when three soldiers were killed in one incident.

"Those soldiers died in a clash in a war zone - these are two very different kettles of fish," he said.

Radio Fiji reported that the five killed renegade soldiers had died from head injuries and that six of the seven wounded rebels at Colonial War Memorial Hospital were in a critical condition.

Interim Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase last night appealed in a televised address to the nation for rebels on the run to surrender.

"I appeal to you to give yourselves up for your family, community and country," he said.

The navy sent a patrol boat to Nukulau Island to bolster security around the makeshift prison where Speight and 15 of his men are being detained on treason charges.

Business in the capital city of Suva returned to normal today as the 24-hour curfew hours were changed to 8pm to 5am. Yesterday the city looked like a ghost town as streets were deserted day and night.

Newspapers also returned to normal today after being unable to be distributed nationwide yesterday.

Both the Fiji Times and Fiji Sun called in editorials for firm action by the military high command, saying that the battle at Queen Elizabeth Barracks in suburban Nabua showed "just how thin and fragile is Fiji's veneer of stability".

"The army commander, Commodore [Frank] Bainimarama, needs to take a very strong line here. It's time for firm leadership," said the Fiji Times.

"For it's plain that the interim government exists only because the army says it does.

"And if the army is split, how can it guarantee the safety of the nation?"

The Fiji Sun praised the three dead loyal soldiers and said they should be declared national heroes by the state.

"They probably never flinched when the order was given for them to be part of the team to assault their base. They probably never had any inkling that it would be their last call for duty ...

"They probably never dreamt that they would die in their own country, fighting for what could probably stand out as the country's last bastion of hope as far as security is concerned."

Adi Kuini Vuikaba Speed, one of two deputy prime ministers in the elected "people's coalition" government ousted by the May coup, warned that Fiji might face civil war if the military and the military installed interim administration did not take decisive action.

"This is just the beginning, and if not taken seriously and handled fairly, a civil war is what we are heading towards," she said.

Adi Kuini called for the military to "tighten up its system" and the interim administration should return the reigns of power to the "legitimate People's Coalition" and retain the "widely accepted 1997 constitution".

Deposed Prime Minister Mahendra Chaudhry called on all Fiji Islanders to be "extremely careful" over the next few days because it was "quite clear that the situation in the country is far from stable".

He also expressed deep concern for the loss of life in the military camp battle and special condolences for grieving families of the dead soldiers.

The mutiny was linked to Commodore Bainimarama's decision to disband the First Meridian Squadron, formerly known as the CRW, according to a military statement released last night and splashed in today's newspaper front pages.

The statement said the aim of the mutiny was to remove the commander as army chief because of his decision to scrap the elite special force.

"This act of extreme rebelliousness was tantamount to mutiny and as such was dealt with accordingly by units loyal to the commander," it said.

Eight members of the unit were released last month from military custody for their role in the illegal overthrow of the Fiji Labour Party-led coalition government and the holding of ministers hostage for 56 days.

The release was strongly condemned by the Fiji public with calls that the rebels should face a court martial.

Media reports said some of the mutineers had invited journalists to witness the rebellion in the military camp before it took place.

An unsigned feature article in the Fiji Times reported that the CRW strategist, Major Ilisoni Ligairi, one of those detained on Nukulau on treason charges, had confirmed that Speight called him on the morning of May 19 and asked for support in carrying out the coup.

"I told him that I was ready and called 30 of my boys and we moved down to Parliament," he recalled.

"Nobody knew about it. That is the way we work - secretly."

The mutiny leader was identified by military authorities as former Fiji Intelligence Service (FIS) unit member Serupepeli Dakai, a decommissioned lieutenant who was also involved in the takeover of Parliament.

After the storming of Kalabu Fijian School by the military forces on July 26, he surrendered to military authorities. He had been detained on Nukulau along with Speight and his supporters but was released from military custody last month.

The Chaudhry government disbanded the FIS last year.


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