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Lieutenant Colonel Tevita Mara Interviewed by Narelle Suiste

'THE NATION'

Lieutenant Colonel Tevita Mara
Interviewed by Narelle Suisted

Sean Plunket
Fiji seems to be in crisis again as Commodore Frank Bainimarama's military regime comes under fire from one of its top officers. He's now in Tonga under the protection of that country's royal family. Lieutenant Colonel Tevita Mara was a top Fiji Army Officer. He was one of Commodore Bainimarama's right hand men, and is a son of the country's first Prime Minister. His defection has provoked all sorts of rumours in Suva, with many suggesting the Commodore's hold on power is slipping. Narelle Suisted spoke to Lieutenant Colonel Mara in Tonga this week just as speculation was growing in Suva that Frank Bainimarama was about to sack Fiji's President.

Tevita Mara That’s Bainimarama all over. You know the true sign of a dictatorship, for anyone who he sees as a threat to him, he removes.

Narelle Because at this stage Bainimarama is saying potentially it's because your brother-in-law helped you to escape from Fiji. What other reason would he have to do this unless it was for that cause?

Tevita First of all he's got no proof whatsoever to show that you know the President assisted in my going away from Fiji, and second that’s the President, he's the Commander in Chief. What right does Bainimarama have to remove him? That clearly shows you know the situation that Fiji is in, run by one man who thinks he can do whatever he wants to do.

Narelle Did your brother-in-law help you to escape?

Tevita No, not at all, not at all. As I said none of my family members knew about it. Again it wasn't an escape, it was a fishing expedition that went wrong and here I am in Tonga.

Narelle Why once you were picked up by the Tongan Navy, did you ask to be brought to Tonga rather than back to Fiji?

Tevita Yes.

Narelle Why did you do that?

Tevita Well at that stage I knew it was an opportunity to get out of Fiji. You know the repressive things that’s happening in Fiji, what they’ve done to me, I saw it as an opportunity to come out and voice my concerns about the country.

Narelle Would this be something that could prompt them into action against Bainimarama?

Tevita A lot of things could prompt them into action, this could be one of them. I think what Fijians are waiting for is someone, or a group of people, to stand up and challenge the government, the regime openly. Fijians are very reserved people. It will take a lot of hardship to get them to revolt against that. But I think Bainimarama knows that you know it's getting towards the end. He knows the feelings of the people are against him, so he's trying to find a way out.

Narelle Do you see yourself as being that person who is standing up against the regime and trying to make a change here?

Tevita Not myself only, but you know there were other people, there were people, in the Military Council too who were against what he was doing, but they couldn’t speak up. There were people outside who also you know didn’t like what was happening, they wanted a change but they couldn’t speak up. You had the GCC the Chiefs you know who stood up and spoke against what Bainimarama did, and see what he did, he took away the GCC. You had the priests, the Methodist Church, the biggest religious denomination in Fiji, who stood up, and look what he did he took away – he put them in court and charged them. So there are people out there, there are groups of people out there. I think the majority of people want to stand up against this. They just want to see a change. I think Fiji at this stage has had enough of all this. The quicker we get back to democratic elections the better.

Narelle Are you in touch with them, are they organising themselves in any way?

Tevita The groups are already organised out there. You know the fear is – the fear amongst them is for what the military is doing. People all fear the military now. It's unfortunate. You know I am a former member of the military, we're sent away on peacekeeping duties to keep the peace in other parts of the world, but yet in our own country we're terrorising our own people, and you know weapons are used to terrorise people, they're brought up – all sorts of things are done to them, and I guess you know it generates fear among the people. But it will get to a stage where people will say you know enough is enough, and we need to stand up.

Narelle Given that Fiji has a history of 24 years of coups, do you really think it's realistic for democratic elections to happen?

Tevita There has to be, there has to be.

Narelle Won’t the Army just intervene again?

Tevita Well that’s as I've said it does not realise that if we do have a democratic elections – democratically elected government that comes in would see only one threat to its existence and that’s from the Army.

Narelle So what's the feeling at the barracks like?

Tevita Well they have access to the internet, they see what's happening, they read the blog sites, you know they talk amongst themselves, they talk to people outside, they talk to their church congregation. They're very concerned.

Narelle Is there enough of that feeling in the barracks that there may be another coup?

Tevita You can never discount that. We've had attempted mutiny in 2001 after the coup. You know this is the problem when you involve the Army into politics, into the political arena. Every single soldier thinks he's a politician, and you know he tries to take part in decisions that are made at government level. That is the problem with military coups, and when you militarise the whole government system which is happening in Fiji now. So we will be faced with a problem later on if we don’t take measures to address this.

Narelle How soon could that happen?

Tevita It could happen at any time.

Narelle What is the feeling among the Chiefs and the Methodists?

Tevita They absolutely don’t agree with it, did not agree with what happened in 2006, and they don’t agree with whatever things that are happening now.

Narelle Do you accept that you’ve had a part to play in this, as one of the people who has helped prop up this regime until now?

Tevita I agree with what you said. I had an opportunity to come out before or during, but during you know around 2008 that came into my mind but you know looking at it and discussing it with other people I thought I could help bring about a change within rather than being outside like this.

Narelle Do you have any regrets about your own role?

Tevita I regret what I have done. You know when the takeover of government was conducted in 2006 I thought it was for a noble reason, it was for a noble cause, and I thought that you know it was going to take us to a better place than what the previous government was taking us to, to a better situation, but now I realise that you know I've been proved wrong.

Narelle Have you been in touch with other governments since you left Fiji?

Tevita No, just recently – I can't disclose the name of the countries but they’ve shown through other people that they are interested to know more about the situation in Fiji.

Narelle How bad is the economic situation?

Tevita It's quite serious. As you know our national debt has gone up, it's gone up to four billion. The cost of living has gone up considerably. Unemployment has gone up, there are hardly any new investments. Government is taking a crackdown on the Civil Service and the Trade Unions. You know this is all signs that the government is going to cut back on Civil Service because it has no money to pay them. They're passing decrees after decrees you know addressing the grave situation.

Narelle What role do you see for yourself in the future of Fiji?

Tevita I've got no political ambitions. I've always wanted to have a career in the Military. I think I've served my time in the Military, given the current reputation of the Military I don’t think I have any intention of going back there. All I'm interested in, all I want to see is for Fiji to go back to the democratic rule.

Sean Lieutenant Colonel Tevita Mara talking there to Narelle Suisted in Tonga, that is a story to watch.


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