Pacific News: Qarase/Bainimarama Summit Meeting Ends
By Selwyn Manning – Scoop Co-Editor
Scoop News Report: The situation in Suva, Fiji is tense following uncertainty over the outcome of talks between Fiji's prime minister, Laisenia Qarase and the island nation's military commander, Commodore Frank Bainimarama in Wellington Wednesday.
It is believed Bainimarama has been planning to over-throw the Fijian government by way of military coup.
FijiLive.com reports that Fiji's Police Commissioner Andrew Hughes - who had indicated he had enough evidence to charge Bainimarama, on sedition charges - had left Suva for Brisbane, Australia on Wednesday. It reported that Fiji Police Senior Superintendent Jahir Khan confirmed the commissioner is currently in Australia on leave with his wife Vicky, and two children.
Also, a military spokesperson Major Neumi Leweni informed media that Royal Fiji Military Force soldiers would patrol Suva streets Wednesday night as part of a combat exercise.
The exercise is a show of strength designed to warn Pacific leaders against deploying a foreign intervention force to Fiji.
Major Leweni said the army will be firing illumination rounds into the sea near Nukulau Island and the entrance to Suva Harbour. George Speight, who led an uprising against the elected Fijian government in 2000, is serving a life sentence imprisoned on Nukulau Island.
The meeting between Qarase and Bainimarama concluded in Wellington without assurances that a coup had been prevented. Shortly after the meeting, New Zealand foreign minister, Winston Peters, said the meeting gave both men an opportunity to discuss their positions. The meeting was constructive, Winston Peters said.Image and audio by Kevin List.
Peters mediated the meeting seeking to ease tensions between the two men at a special summit organised by him and Prime Minister Helen Clark in an attempt to avert a coup from being carried out by Fiji's military.
Foreign Minister Winston Peters said today's meeting between Fijian Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase and Commodore Frank Bainimarama at Government House had been constructive.
"The discussions extended over two hours and were lengthy, serious and meaningful," Winston Peters said.
"New Zealand hosted today's meeting because we recognise that resolving the current situation in Fiji is fundamentally important to its future, and to the future of the wider Pacific.
"Our role as host of the meeting was to bring the parties together and to facilitate dialogue between them. We have done so today," Winston Peters said.
Prior to the meeting, Commodore Bainimarama said the meeting would be short and that he sought yes and no answers from Qarase to his demands.
The military chief's demands include:
Dropping an amnesty clause within a reconciliation bill that would see the release of some of those convicted for orchestrating Fiji's coup in 2000 Sacking Fiji's Police Commissioner Andrew Hughes (An Australian) And dropping the QoliQoli Bill that would open up Fiji's coast and much of its foreshore to public/indigenous Fijian access and ownership. Many in Fiji fear that bill would destroy Fiji's tourism industry.
Fiji's PM Laisenia Qarase had agreed to modify the amnesty clause last week.
After the meeting, Qarase told Legend FM Radio: "We focused mainly on the demands. It took us about two hours and the commander had to leave. We could have covered more ground if there had of been more time."
Bainimarama offered no comment as he left the meeting.
Pacific Forum foreign ministers are set to meet in Sydney Australia on Friday to discuss the crisis. Forum secretary general Greg Urwin said the Fijian government had indicated it would "welcome a collective statement from Forum Countries" warning the Fijian military leadership about "the severe consequences" of any illegal action.
However, Bainimarama had earlier said he would not tolerate any foreign intervention in Fiji's situation and warned that if Qarase sought foreign assistance, should today's talks fail, then he would "face the consequences".
Scoop understands Fiji's police sought, via Interpol, to arrest Bainimarama on sedition charges on the weekend, while he was in New Zealand attending his grandchild's Christening. But New Zealand Police refused to act on the warrant. Helen Clark said yesterday that Bainimarama would not be arrested while he remained in New Zealand.
Bainimarama has left Wellington and is preparing to travel back to Fiji this evening on board an Air Pacific flight leaving New Zealand at 6.05pm and scheduled to arrive in Fiji at 9pm.
United Nations secretary general, Kofi Annan, said Fiji is at risk of being banned from taking part in UN peacekeeping operations. "Fiji’s international standing, which it has built carefully over the years as an important contributor to UN peacekeeping operations and more recently as a member of the Peacebuilding Commission, is at risk if the crisis is prolonged," Kofi Annan said.
Meanwhile, Australia has moved three Navy vessels into South-West Pacific waters, ready to evacuate Australians from the Fijian Islands should the Military conduct a coup. Soldiers, an evacuation team, medics, helicopters, and land force vehicles are on board.
The Australian government had sought a meeting of all Pacific Islands Forum foreign ministers to address the crisis. It is believed Australia's foreign minister, Alexander Downer, sought agreement that should a coup occur then foreign troops should enter Fiji in an attempt to stabilize the country.
On Thursday, Fiji's Police Commissioner Andrew Hughes executed a search warrant on the Fijian President's office, searching for documents relating to police investigations into Bainimarama.
The Military had said the "police raid" on the President's office was unacceptable and called for the Police Commissioner to be sacked. In turn the Police Commissioner Andrew Hughes said he was close to laying sedition charges against Bainimarama.
The charges include: Disobedience and unlawful order Seditious content of public statements Unlawful removal of ammunition form a container secured by Police Investigation into deaths of soldiers allegedly murdered at the Queen Elizabeth Barracks during the November 2000 mutiny.
Hughes also alluded to 'shadowy figures' including current members of the Fijian Parliament that had been advising Bainimarama to overthrow the government.