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PIF: Suspension Looms For Fiji Unless It Complies

Suspension Looms For Fiji Unless It Complies With PIF Dictates

Report and images by John Andrews in Niue

Fiji faces possible suspension from the Pacific Islands forum if its interim government doesn't allow a prompt return to democracy. Forum country leaders meeting in Niue issued a sternly worded communique today condemning the failure of Fiji to turn up at their annual summit.

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NZ PM Helen Clark and Australia's PM Kevin Rudd at the PIF, Niue.

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Pacific Islands Forum leaders show off their retreat attire.

They consider the non-appearance of military leader, Commodore Frank Bainimarama, is "unacceptable".

In his capacity as the forum's new chairman, Niue Premier Toke Talagi (pictured right), said none of the 14 leaders at their retreat called for Fiji's immediate suspension.

They wanted dialogue through the forum's ministerial contact group to help persuade Fiji to allow democratic elections.

But they resolved to hold a special meeting in Papua New Guinea's Port Moresby in about three months' time to discuss punitive measures, such as Fiji's suspension, if negotiations proved fruitless.

They declare: "The interim government should have attended to account for the undertakings given at the 2007 forum in Tonga to hold an election by March 2009, in accordance with Fiji's existing constitution and electoral laws."

They say recent statements from Fiji's interim government "are inconsistent with the undertakings provided to leaders at the 2007 forum regarding the holding of elections and a return to democracy."

They urge Fiji to demonstrate good faith by maintaining a relationship with the forum by resuming negotiations with the 'Fiji-Forum Joint Working Group'.

New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark said forum leaders were sending a very strong message, given they were prepared to consider Fiji's suspension.

Urging Commodore Bainimarama to think carefully, Ms Clark said Fiji had little prospect of restoring relations with important fund donors if it continued to refuse to engage with forum country members over a proper timetable for a return to democracy.

Never before had the forum considered excluding a member from its council.

Australia's Prime Minister Kevin Rudd echoed Ms Clark's sentiments, saying: "For the Pacific Islands forum to declare an unequivocal condemnation of Bainimarama, the interim prime minister of Fiji, is itself unprecedented.

"And secondly, what is unprecedented, is for the first time the forum countries giving definition to special measures, that is the inclusion of suspension and, thirdly, a time line which is that we are going to receive a report on this by year's end which is still three months before the scheduled convening of elections.

"For the region to speak with a uniform voice, a united voice condemning the abuse of democracy on the part of the interim Fiji government is itself a significant step forward," Kevin Rudd said.

Asked if the forum leaders considered what retaliatory measures the Fiji interim government might take in a worst case scenario of being suspended, Mr Talagi said: "I think at the present moment we should not speculate. What we need to do is to ensure we continue with our dialogue with Fiji based on the decisions taken by the forum leaders."

He said the forum had selected Tuiloma Neroni Slade, a high profile diplomat from Samoa, as its new secretary general to replace Greg Urwin who died recently. On the first ballot, Mr Slade defeated two other candidates for the post, Wilkie Rasmussen, the Cook Islands Minister of Foreign Affairs, and Feleti Teo, the forum's deputy secretary general from Tuvalu.


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