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Military Clears Suspect Colonels

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Staff Reporters USP's Pacific Journalism Online

SUVA: Fiji's military forces have cleared two senior army officers suspected of being involved in an aborted mutiny earlier this month and have lifted the restrictions on their movements, according to news media reports.

Captain Shane Stevens, leader of the special forces revolt on November 2 which claimed the lives of three loyalist and five rebel soldiers, had accused Colonel Ulaiasi Vatu and Lieutenent-Colonel Filipo Tarakinikini of being involved,

The Fiji Times today quoted military spokesman Howard Politini as saying: "It was Shane's allegation and his word against the rest of the rebel soldiers who knew nothing of the allegations, so we dropped the investigations."

Captain Stevens, who was put in charge of the elite First Meridian Squadron (originally the Counter-Revolutionary Warefare unit), had told an investigation the two officers were involved.

Colonel Vatu told the Fiji Times he was thankful the investigation was over and said he would start work today.

Colonel Tarakinikini was relieved but told the newspaper his reputation had been tarnished. He resumes work on Monday.

The military are now just seeking one rebel soldier after another surrendered yesterday.

According to the Fiji Times, police were on high alert today after receiving reports of violence being threatened to coincide with the Great Council of Chiefs meeting.

Last night extra police were placed on patrol and the military erected snap checkpoints.

One of the two deputy prime ministers in the deposed elected government, Adi Kuini Speed, told the Daily Post that she supported the judgment of Justice Anthony Gates for the recall of Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara as President and for Parliament to meet.

Judge Gates ruled in his landmark judgement on Wednesday that the military-installed interim regime was illegal and unconstitutional and the 1997 Constitution was still the supreme law of the country.

Adi Kuini said the return of Ratu Mara "will take Fiji to genuine stability".

However, she accepted that interim Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase should continue to lead the country until the Court of Appeal made a ruling on Judge Gates' judgement.

The interim government has not yet filed an appeal but Attorney-General Alipate Qetaki said it would be filed today. This would probably be heard in the next session of the Court of Appeal in February.

"A stay application may be made in order that the enforcement of a court order is delayed or put on hold until the appeal is disposed of," Qetaki said.

According to the Fiji Sun, several chiefs described the Judge Gates' judgement as "dangerous and a catalyst for more trouble".

The management board of the Soqosoqo Ni Vakavulewa Ni Taukei (SVT) party, the main indigenous Fijian party, resolved that the Constitution Review Commission and interim administration members should continue in office in spite of the court ruling.

SVT general secretary Jone Banuve said Judge Gates "might have acted irresponsibly".

The SVT was in opposition in the elected government, was tainted by allegations over support for coup leader George Speight who seized Parliament on May 19, and now dominates the appointed administration.

Speight and 13 of his followers are detained on Nukulau island, near Suva, awaiting trial for treason.


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