Saturday, May 2, 2009

'What do you expect, a kiss on both cheeks?'

PREDICTABLY, the Fiji military regime reacted defiantly over the inevitable Pacific Islands Forum suspension. Acting PM Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum seized on the lack of protocol, condemning the PIF for announcing the move by press release first before delivering a diplomatic note to the regime. He also pointed out the hypocrisy in the light of the original coups in 1987 when Sitiveni Rabuka never held elections for five years but didn’t face suspension by the Pacific political body. The entire region is the loser for this action - the first suspension of a PIF member in 39 years. A leading academic from the University of the South Pacific, Dr Steven Ratuva, says the suspension could hurt small Pacific nations more than Fiji. While the international responses have come thick and fast to Fiji’s increasing isolation, Café Pacific notes John Boonstra of UN Dispatch tried to sort out misleading statements by Australian PM Kevin Rudd earlier this week about the Fijian peacekeepers:
For those who may have been following the strange saga of whether or not Fijian troops have been barred from UN peacekeeping missions, the tale may -- or may not -- have taken a twist the other day, when Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd announced rather unequivocally that the UN was not accepting any troops from Fiji.

At issue is the fact that the government of Fiji, which came to power in a coup two years ago, still has not held elections. Since troops going to UN peacekeeping missions would come from Fiji's military, this would indirectly lend support to Fiji's military junta.

Australia and New Zealand have a problem with this, and they have led the effort to make sure that no new Fijian troops join UN peacekeeping missions. Except... Fijian peacekeepers haven't been deployed to new missions since the 2006 coup, and even under current policy, Fijian troops currently deployed -- such as 500 in Iraq -- will not be forced to leave. So it's unclear whether Rudd was articulating standing UN policy, or was calling for stricter measures against Fijian peacekeepers.

The military leader of Fiji, for his part, kindly told Prime Minister Rudd to bug off. We'll see where this goes.
Back in Suva, Fiji-born journalist Graham Davis filed a colour piece along with his exclusive Sky News and Australian interview with military leader Commodore Voreqe Bainimarama (pictured) giving his 11th hour plea for face-to-face talks with Rudd and NZ Prime Minister John Key – they didn’t take him seriously. The report gave some interesting insights into life with the commander in his lair – the Queen Elizabeth Barracks, where he survived an assassination attempt in November 2000 by rebel elite forces supporting coup leader no 3 leader George Speight:
[Bainimarama] has just shown me the bullet holes that riddle the timber panels of his office in an adjacent building that came under attack by rebel soldiers during the mutiny of 2000.

"We leave it unrepaired to remind us just how close we came to disaster. It was only because I was at lunch in the mess that I survived," Bainimarama says.

"When we realised we were under attack, my security detail rushed me through the back door and down the hill to safety. We were dodging bullets and rocket-propelled grenades. Three loyal soldiers died that day, and we must never forget."

Bainimarama readily concedes that five captured rebels were beaten to death, but denies reports that one had his penis cut off, another his tongue ripped out. Any mention of extrajudicial killings is curtly dismissed. "These people came to kill us. What do you expect, a kiss on both cheeks?"
Meanwhile, tomorrow is World Media Freedom Day – and it has been silenced in Fiji this year following the Easter putsch. A strategic media freedom workshop planned for Suva with UNESCO backing was banned and a hurriedly organised alternative programme was conjured up in Apia, Samoa, thanks to the efforts by Pacific Freedom Forum’s facilitator Lisa Williams-Lahari and her team. But over in Tonga, the fallout from a controversial libel lawsuit has many of the local editors more concerned about a 'wake up call' over media responsibility.

1 comment:

Avaiki Nius said...

Thanks for the final para on the Project XIX meeting in Samoa. As I understand it, Lisa Williams Lahari and Ulamila Wragg spent weeks behind the scenes preparing for Fiji. When the media ban there meant relocating to Samoa it is my understanding that UNESCO Apia stepped into the breach and handled the change of arrangements - an admirably short order response to an emerging situation - well done all.

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