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Military Denies FT Report; Threatens Journalist

Military Denies FT Report; Threatens Journalist
Issue No: 593 15 March 2001

The military has strongly denied a report in yesterday's Fiji Times that it is aware of the President's decision being outside the law.

In its lead story on the appointment of Ratu Tevita Momoedonu by the then Acting President, Ratu Josefa Iloilo, the paper wrote: "A senior military officer said the security forces were aware that the decisions taken by the President was outside the law". The reporter, Margaret Wise, quoted the officer as saying: "We are aware that it might be outside the provisions of the Constitution but this is the least worst option that can be taken to return the country to parliamentary rule within the shortest time. We are choosing the lesser of two evils".

In a statement taken out by the regime yesterday, the military condemned the report and the reporter. The statement, refuting the allegations, said: "Through a statement, army spokesman, Captain Ned Taito stated that the reporter claimed to have quoted from unofficial sources which the RFMF considers as slanderous."

"The RFMF has never made nor condoned such a statement that implies that decisions made by His Excellency the President were illegal or that the RFMF was party to any such action."

The statement further stated that the military was requesting "the Fiji Times to refrain from making such unsubstantiated allegations and cautioned that any future allegations as such will result in appropriate actions being taken by the military against the newspaper and the reporter responsible."

If the threat is any action outside the law, then this is reprehensible, however mischievous the reporter may have been.

The issue now is that we have a leading newspaper almost claiming that the military endorsed the unconstitutional acts of the President, and the military denying any such endorsement. This is a serious matter.

What is the military's position on the series of unconstitutional acts by the Commander-in-Chief of the army? Was it ever consulted by the Office of the President? That the military had a meeting, albeit even a regular meeting, on the 14th, does raise the question of whether the military made any decision to advice the President at all.

If it hasn't, as the government statement stated, then this is of concern. By not advising the President of the illegalities of his planned actions, the military has failed in its duty to be true to their oath, to uphold the Constitution and to safeguard the integrity of the Office of the President. It has also failed to prevent the Office of the President from being used by unscrupulous politicians and bureaucrats and in the process seriously tarnishing the image of the President and the military.

Claims that the military may be a party to the decisions and that this is another "bloodless coup" which has been carried out in the country with the willing hand of the military, need to be laid to rest by the military.

END 15 March 2001


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