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Indian Nominees Accused Of 'Betrayal'

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SUVA: A prominent Indo-Fijian political leader has accused four Indians who have agreed to serve on Fiji's controversial Constitutional Review Commission as having betrayed the Indian community "at the most crucial hour", according to media reports.

The Fiji Times reported the National Federation Party general secretary Attar Singh as having made the attack after the swearing in of the commission members yesterday.

The paper said the NFP believed the four Indian nominees - social worker Benjamin Bhagwan, business consultant Joe Singh, retired civil servant Fred Achari and lawyer Joseph Maharaj - should be alienated from the community.

The party said the men should be regarded as "outcasts".

Six other major organisations, including the Fiji Labour Party which led the deposed elected coalition government, also condemned the nominees.

Singh said the men did not represent the Indo-Fijian community and were puppets of the military installed civilian administration.

"They neither have the credibility nor the mandate of the Indo-Fijian community," he told the Fiji Times.

"They are mere puppets of the interim administration. Every right-thinking Indo-Fijian knows that the four members have no following in the society.

"The four members don't enjoy the support of the major Indo-Fijian political parties as well as religious and cultural organisations."

Singh said the men were participating in the commission for their own self-interests.

He said the commission should be disbanded in the best interests of the nation.

Quoted in the Fiji Sun, Singh said: "If interim [Prime Minister Laisenia] Qarase is genuine about guaranteeing the rights of Indo-Fijians and minority groups, he should seek the views of the people and not legitimise discrimination on the basis of tokenism."

Baghwan told the Fiji Sun he had joined the commission because of a higher calling from God.

"I am exercising my democratic right as a citizen of this country to do justice and to help with reconciliation and democracy in this country," he said.

A disappointed ousted deputy prime minister Dr Tupeni Baba said the four Indo-Fijians were limiting the rights of their community by taking part in the "charade".

He said one could conclude that self-interest and expediency were not just limited to the indigenous Fijian community.

Dr Baba, himself indigenous Fijian, warned that the indigenous community would end up being the loser by restricting the rights and freedoms of other races.

Only the United General Party, one of two parties representing the 5 percent "general" population - or other races apart from Fijian and Indo-Fijian, supported the Indian nominees.

Tourism industry stalwart Mick Beddoes, a founder of the UGP and a strong supporter of a return to democracy under the 1997 multiracial constitution, resigned from the party in protest over its decision to participate in the commission.

A former president of the rival General Voters Party, William Sorby, was also appointed to the commission.

The commission is headed by University of the South Pacific academic Professor Asesela Ravuvu.

Other members of the 12-member commission, including several who were supporters of rebel leader George Speight, who is now detained on treason charges, are: Adi Litia Cakobau, Berenado Vunibobo, Ratu Rakuita Vakalalabure, Fatiaki Misau, Dr Apenisa Kurisaqila and Charles Walker.

Qarase said at a media conference yesterday the commission would take five months from next July to consult the indigenous Fijian community on a draft constitution.

General elections would be held under the new constitution by June 2002.

+++niuswire


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