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FIJI: Envoy's justice comments still rile regime

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ENVOY'S JUSTICE COMMENTS STILL RILE REGIME

* See this Pacific Journalism Online report for updates: http://www.usp.ac.fj/journ/docs/news/usp28awards00.html


SUVA: A diplomatic row over a New Zealand envoy's criticisms of the slowness in bringing the perpetrators of the May coup to justice in Fiji continued today with the military-appointed regime describing the comments as "ill-timed" and "foolish".

In a statement, interim Foreign Minister Kaliopate Tavola said High Commissioner Tia Barrett's comments at an awards ceremony for University of the South Pacific journalism students last Friday "certainly marked a clear departure from his usual diplomatic role".

The Daily Post reported that Barrett hit out at what he called the slow judicial process in Fiji while chief guest at the function.

Tavola was quoted as saying: "The police and the judicial system face a complicated task in vetting through the information that is available and to ensure that individual human rights are not encroached on in any way during the investigations."

Tavola said he was shocked with the statements because on the same Friday he had spoken with Barrett on the restoration of official dialogue with the New Zealand government.

"In retrospect, however, if his statements at the USP over the weekend represent the kind of dialogue that the New Zealand government is envisaging, then I have grave misgivings.'

Tavola defended the interim administration over Barrett's comments on the absence of democratic institutions in the country.

"I believe the high commissioner has conveniently forgotten what happened in this country on May 19 and its aftermath from which we are still trying to recover," he said.

The interim minister said Barrett's comments that indigenous issues could not take priority over fundamental human rights were a "sad reflection of his understanding of the Fiji situation".

However, the Fiji Times reported that Barrett stood by his comments, saying they were made to journalism students regarding journalism morals, availability of information to the media and the continuing debates on various key issues in Fiji.

Barrett denied overstepping his diplomatic role.

* Meanwhile, the Fiji Trades Union Council accused the interim regime of corruption and serving the interests only of privileged and well-placed people in the country.

Spokesperson Rajeshwar Singh said the fact that lawyer Vodo Tuberi, who represented rebel leader George Speight and his followers and was on the New Zealand government blacklist, was recommended for an aid programme, constituted corruption.

He said this was especially so when a lawyer could not normally qualify for the $140,000 NZ medical treatment scheme.

Although Tuberi received surgery in New Zealand, the NZ government has cut funding for him and now Fiji taxpayers will foot the $16,000 medical bill. He owns an established legal practice.

According to the Fiji Times, Singh said stories were rife of small children from poor homes not being able to go abroad for lifesaving treatment because of a lack of funds.

"These children have not received assistance from the interim administration. Is it because they do not know the people in power?" Singh asked.

"Yet the interim administration supported a well-to-do lawyer for treatment."

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