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New Coup Plotters Face Regional Military Strike

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New Coup Plotters Face Regional Military Strike, Says Author

AUCKLAND (Pacific Media Watch): Coup plotters in Fiji trying to stage another "56 hostage sideshow" would face major regional military intervention, warns the co-author of a new book about the failed May 2000 putsch.

Citing the Solomon Islands and Iraq as examples, journalist Michael Field says the world has decided it can no longer tolerate rogue states.

"Another coup in Fiji risks regional intervention. The next coup is likely to be a much bloodier affair - perhaps tanked up by disenchanted, well-armed unemployed mercenaries back from Iraq."

At least 20 people died as a result of rogue businessman George Speight's attempted coup, according to Field.

Auckland-based Field is co-author of Speight of Violence: Inside Fiji's 2000 Coup along with former Deputy Prime Minister Tupeni Baba, one of the hostages, and his wife, Unaisi Nabobo-Baba.

Dr Baba was also held hostage by Fiji's first coup leader, Sitiveni Rabuka, in 1987.

Foreign Minister Phil Goff is launching the book in Auckland tomorrow night five years after the Speight putsch.

Describing the rebellion as a "cellphone and internet affair", Field says cellphones led to the coup-plotters' downfall - "without them, some would not have gone to jail".

The co-author notes that while most businesses - particularly those in Suva - took a hammering in 2000, Vodafone Fiji Ltd scored a record profit of $10.5 million.

"Because of the political turmoil caused by the May 19 coup, Vodafone became an important source of telecommunications for a significant sector of of the population," according to the cellphone company's annual report.

Field is sceptical about the prospects of an Indo-Fijian leader becoming prime minister of Fiji.

He says the country will be tested again with a general election due next year with questions about Fiji's future if deposed prime minister Mahendra Chaudhry or his Fiji Labour Party score well in the polls.

"Even if Chaudhry was not prime minister but the FLP was a major partner in any new government, that could well prompt another coup," Field says.

"A simple fact has to be accepted in any version of a modern Fiji: indigenous Fijians hold more than 90 percent of all land in Fiji. They also control crucial institutions of democracy like the military, the police, the Senate and the Native Land Trust Board; their perceptions about government and democracy need to be understood by any government of the day.

"No government can operate successfully without the support of Fijians and Fijian-dominated institutions."

In spite of Speight being jailed for life for treason on the prison isle of Nukulau in Suva harbour, he had demonstrated to Fijians for the third time in 30 years that "coups succeed".

"As if to underscore that point, Speight is being treated as special and given privileged prison treatment," writes Field.

"That sends a signal to any political malcontent in the future: coups have a good chance of succeeding and, even if they do not, the penalty will be easy time.

"The Qarase government was not part of the 2000 coup, but they did legitimise it."

Parts of a secret hostage diary recorded by Dr Baba while he was one of Speight's prisoners are published in this book along with his wife's letters and reflections.

Dr Baba, a former professor of education at the University of the South Pacific, is now a senior research fellow at the Centre for Pacific Studies at Auckland University. His wife, Unaisi, also from USP, is completing her PhD in education at Auckland University.

In one of Dr Baba's Red Cross letters to Unaisi, four days before being freed, he wrote: "Today, Sunday 9th, is our 52nd day in captivity. I am sure it is going to be a record for any arrest of MPs in the world. We, meaning Fiji, will soon enter the Guinness Book of Records on this and we will be in line with other banana republics in the world.

"Other arrested people in other African countries were not kept in Parliament House like ours. Anyway that's for history and posterity"

"During the coup," recalls Unaisi Baba, "I daily watched from my home, not so much as a stone's throw from Parliament, busloads of people - my people - arriving to veisiko or visit their relatives, and who made Parliament and its immediate grounds their home."

The large numbers of Fijians rallied around Parliament buildings during the coup proved "very useful to the coup-makers as a 'human shield' and making it impossible for the army to go in to dissolve the situation".

ENDS

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