Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Two out of three murder charges dropped in Fiji plot case

FIJI'S ASSASSINATION conspiracy case has taken a dramatic turn with the dropping of two of three charges against eight men indicted.

The eight - including a high chief - had been accused of plotting to assassinate the self-appointed Prime Minister, Voreqe Bainimarama, and two senior regime ministers in 2007.

Presiding judge Justice Paul Madigan dropped the charges of conspiracy to murder Mahendra Chaudhry and conspiracy to murder the Attorney-General Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum because of “ambiguous” evidence.

The eight men now face one remaining count of conspiring to murder Bainimarama.

Fijilive reports:
Ratu Inoke Takiveikata, Feoko Gadekibau, Barbedoes Mills, Metuisela Mua, Sivaniolo Naulago, Eperama Waqatairewa, Kaminieli Vosavere and Pauliasi Ramulo are now free on charges that they conspired to murder Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum and Mahendra Chaudhry.

The first count still stands and that is the [alleged] plan to kill the Army Commander.

First accused Ratu Inoke Takiveikata has opted to give sworn evidence from the witness box as the case on the first count proceeds.

Five local assessors are also presiding over the case, now into its fourth week.
Ironically, the Citizens’ Constitutional Forum today also issued a statement calling on the regime to take urgent action over the independence of the judiciary. Reverend Akuila Yabaki, director of the CCF, called on the government to invite the UN Special Rapporteurs on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers to visit Fiji as soon as possible.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Human rights or corruption? Trotting out the real Fiji issues

ALL THE tired old clichés came out in droves in last week’s United Nations monologue on the Fiji regime’s tatty human rights record. Headlines fell over themselves echoing the same refrain:

Fiji human rights to undergo scrutiny
Fiji human rights to face UN scrutiny
Fiji Human rights defence challenged in Geneva … etc … etc …

Yet most of the litany of abuses rattled off by various governments and NGOs before the UN Human Rights Council periodic review were actually perpetrated in the months after Bainimarama’s original coup and yet they were often trotted out as if they were fresh. The breathless media blogs and journalists who continually recycle the same old sins rarely provide background or context – and even rarer is a mention of the systematic human rights and race-based violations by the ousted “democratic” regime of Laisenia Qarase.

Now, according to Fiji’s public broadcaster, the regime is wading through 116 recommendations to see how it can make things better. (Aligned against Australia, NZ, UK and the US - the Anglo-Saxon club - were countries such as China, Mexico, Philippines and Russia, which were prepared to give Fiji a fair go).

Following the saturation coverage of alleged Fiji human rights abuses in media in Downunder media, Café Pacific reckons journalists ought to see the film Balibo to get a sense of real human rights violations in this part of the world – in East Timor, where the Australian and New Zealand governments meekly brushed these Indonesian crimes on their doorstep under the carpet. Much easier to bully Fiji than Indonesia.

According to many seasoned local journalists, much of the Australian and NZ press simply fail to acknowledge the complexity of Fiji’s socio-political context. And nothing is said positively about the regime perhaps having actually achieved something in reducing race-based human rights violations. Says one former leading Fiji editor in an email to Café Pacific:
Fiji is not a homogeneous country. It is a unique country where we have two major races who each comprise about roughly half of the total population. The mix of cultures and religion is also unique.

The two major political parties are aligned along racial lines – that is their power base. They use the political arena to gain mileage and use the media to split the community.

We have seen plenty of the above.

When reporting about Fiji, the media needs a deeper understanding about racial issues in order to avoid being manipulated by politicians.
So the media has to be careful how it goes about reporting race and politics.

People in Western countries view Fiji through Western eyes. But Fijian society and the situation here is very different.

Having said that, censorship is taken advantage of by the government when it allows nothing negative to be reported. This is not doing society any favour either.

It just shows what a powerful tool the media is, and how successive governments in Fiji have tried to bring it under their control.
His comments were borne out by Fiji's Ambassador to the European Union, Peceli Vocea, who blamed Fiji's ills on two decades of "mismanagement, corruption and nepotism" (ie. under "democratic" leadership).

Prominent Fiji issues blogger Croz Walsh, who unlike the tabloid “antis”, tries to bring some rigour to his website with research and analysis, deplored the gullible acceptance by news media of the spate of uncritical, onesided reports on human rights. He says:
Fiji really has been in the news for the last few days, and not one word in its favour. By now the world must think its human rights record is on a par with Burma. All other Fiji news, little that it ever was, has been pushed aside (except for ANU's Jon Fraenkel speaking to Radio NZ International on Voreqe Bainimarama's "resignation" and Fiji's Met Service work for the Cooks) by the avalanche of "human rights" news.

Apparently nothing positive is happening in Fiji, and there's never a word about the massive abuse of power -- and hence abuse of human rights -- by the deposed "democratically elected" government.
I wonder how honest journalists can continue to talk of an independent media when their colleagues continue to report like this? Or how Fiji, even with the most worthy deeds and the most efficient PR, can have one hope in hell of countering what can only be called propaganda?

My paltry efforts in my blog to provide background, information, analysis and helpful comments is outnumbered many thousands to one, and the occasional radio interview seems like a sop to supposed balance.

The real Fiji issue here is not human rights (though some, affecting very few people, have been abused). The real issue is the abuse of "media rights" that have been allowed, if not encouraged, to so distort the situation in Fiji, past and present.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Bougainville's eco-revolution mirrored in Avatar

By Omar Hamed

Despite selling out every night it screens at a cinema on Wellington’s Courtenay Place and becoming the highest grossing film of all time, few have picked up on Avatar’s blatant allusions to the historical drama of Bougainville that happened on New Zealand’s doorstep 13 years ago.

The film’s names, plot and characters are almost direct references to the 1997 Bougainville crisis yet no one seems to have drawn the dots between science fiction and South Pacific fact. Until now.

Many people will be familiar with the story of Avatar. The story opens 150 years in the future. A human mining corporation, RDA, has come five light years from Earth to the ecologically pristine jungle wilderness of the planet Pandora to mine the mineral unobtanium.

The richest deposits of unobtanium lie buried deep within the ground of Pandora and directly below the home of an alien race known as the Na’vi.

Jake Sully, an ex-United States marine turned mercenary, is sent out to spy on the aliens by controlling a genetically engineered Avatar.

The security commander of the RDA, Colonel Miles Quaritch, encourages Sully to win the trust of the Na’vi and entice them to relocate away from their home in a giant tree, so the RDA can mine the unobtanium.

Before Sully is able to persuade the Na’vi to leave Hometree, Colonel Quaritch attacks Hometree and destroys it.

Scientists mutiny
Sully (in Avatar form) and a crew of RDA scientists mutiny and join the Na’vi in their struggle to rid Pandora of the RDA.

The endgame battle revolves around the Na’vi defending the sacred tree of souls and the vital connection it provides to their races culture, memories and the Pandoran equivalent of earth goddess Gaia.

By the end of the film the RDA are defeated and in one of the closing scenes Sully and armed Na’vi watch over a column of sullen RDA miners and their mercenaries as they are forcibly put aboard a space shuttle destined for earth.

The events that inspired Avatar writer and producer James Cameron can only have been the long guerrilla war that scarred the Bougainville for a decade between 1988 and 1998.

The armed revolt began in 1988 when a group of indigenous rebels stole explosives and sabotaged the electricity supply to the environmentally destructive Panguna copper and gold mine, opened in 1964 and controlled by the CRA, an Australian subsidy of UK mining giant Rio Tinto.

The Panguna mine was opened on land stolen from the Nasioi tribe and tailings were dumped in a nearby river, eliminating aquatic life and forcing 800 tribespeople to lose their land.

For a decade, the Pacific conflict festered between the eco-guerrilla Bougainville Revolutionary Army and the ill-disciplined Papua New Guinea Defence Force.

Tight blockade
The conflict caused the deaths of between 10,000 and 20,000 Bougainvilleans, as Australian-supplied gunships strafed rebel camps and civilian villages and a tight blockade left the islanders often without food or medical supplies and allowed malaria and tuberculosis to spread with impunity.

The end of the conflict came in 1997 when the Papua New Guinea government hired Sandline International, a British mercenary outfit led by former British Army Colonel Tim Spicer, to destroy the Bougainville Revolutionary Army.

Sandline and the PNG government signed a secret US$36 million contract for Sandline to provide a military solution to the Bougainville crisis that would see Sandline supply new helicopter gunships and troopships and using a mixed mercenary and PNGDF strike force, overwhelm the BRA.

However, as Spicer’s mercenaries landed in PNG and began training the PNGDF in preparation for the assault on Bougainville to reopen Panguna, the Weekend Australian journalist Mary-Louise O’Callaghan broke the story, precipitating a diplomatic crisis between PNG and Australia and widespread disgust from PNG civil society.

In the wake of Callaghan’s expose, the commander of the PNGDF, Jerry Singirok (pictured), led an army coup to force the government to cancel the contract, step aside and call new elections.

Singirok went on national radio to tell the country he could not allow the government to send foreign mercenaries armed with high-powered rocket launchers to murder in Bougainville and then disarmed the Sandline mercenaries and imprisoned Spicer.

As the crisis grew and student protests in Port Moresby escalated the government reluctantly resigned and the Sandline soldiers were deported.

NZ-brokered ceasefire
In 1998, a New Zealand-brokered ceasefire was negotiated and eventually the Autonomous Bougainville Government established.

The Panguna mine remains closed and in the hands of the indigenous landowners yet foreign corporate interest in reopening the mine continues.

Cameron’s plot is almost a direct adaptation of the Bougainville crisis with only the most minor adjustments.

The full scale attack on Hometree in Avatar is a fair estimation of the havoc that Spicer’s proposed gunship assault to open Panguna would have had on the Nasioi tribe.

In the climactic battle, Jake Sully leads an alliance of Na’vi tribes aided by an uprising of Pandoran wildlife sent by their planets goddess of life, Eywa.

Sully then lands on the back of the RDA space-shuttle turned carpet-bomber and uses a grenade to spin it off its flight path, thus preventing it from destroying the sacred tree of souls.

The scenario nicely symbolises how Jerry Singirok’s coup blew apart the PNG governments plan to rain death and destruction over Bougainville, in tandem with student and union protests escalating into anti-government riots and a parliamentary siege.

This uprising eventually forced Sandline to divert the flight-plan of the world’s largest cargo plane, filled with grenade launchers, mortars and ammunition.

Chan resigned
Prime Minister Sir Julius Chan resigned and the mercenaries were forced to land their deadly payload in an Australian air force base instead of in Port Moresby.

In the much discussed blogpost, When Will White People Stop Making Movies Like Avatar? Annalee Newitz makes the argument that the film reinforces racial stereotypes because the white audience can “ignore the fundamental experience of being an oppressed racial group”.

What Newitz and other liberal anti-racists fail to appreciate is that the character of Jake Sully and his mutiny against the RDA is not a “white guilt fantasy” but a retelling of the story of Singirok and his army rebelling against their Government.

Sully’s mutiny is also a reminder of the power of rank-and-file military desertions and mutinies to end unjust wars.

The Vietnam War ground to a halt in the 1970s partly because the US military was in a “state approaching collapse” according to an American army colonel, as a result of officer killings, widespread drug use, and spiralling desertions.

The reality is that over 350,000 US soldiers went AWOL in Vietnam between 1967 and 1972, and that isn’t just a “white guilt fantasy”.

Sully should be seen not as a “white guilt fantasy” but as a white guilt fact, he represents a recurring historical figure, seen in soldiers like Singirok and John Riley, the leader of the Irish deserters from the US army in the US Mexican war (1846-8) who formed the St Patrick’s Battalion and fought for the Mexicans.

Cameron has infused his film Avatar with so many allusions to the Bougainville conflict that it beggars belief that only a few have picked up on it.

Singirok’s coup
For example, a quick reshuffle and a little transposing of the letters in “Miles Quaritch” and we get something very similar to “I am Tim Spicer”.

Coincidentally Cameron was developing the script a good 13 years ago – the same time as CNN and BBC were broadcasting to the world Singirok’s coup against the Sandline contract.

The story of Bougainville’s bloody eco-revolution, the Sandline crisis and the overthrow of unscrupulous and corrupted PNG politicians by army revolt was always going to make an excellent film.

Cameron has done justice to a little-known chapter of history that happened right here in the South Pacific.

Yet just last October Rio Tinto’s Bougainville company was exploring with the new Bougainville government the possibility of reopening the Panguna mine.

Of course, the indigenous landowners still vehemently oppose the reopening of the mine. The sequel to Avatar may be coming sooner than many predicted.

If it does, the Naisoi will need the help of as many Avatar fans as possible to keep their South Pacific “Pandora” free and unspoiled.

Omar Hamed is a student political activist who writes for Indy media. This commentary on the Socialist Aotearoa blog was published on Pacific Scoop. Images: Top: Avatar, Middle: Panguna mine (Pacific Scoop), and Bottom: Jerry Singirok (Gemini).

When will white people stop making movies like Avatar?

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Fiji pensions: 'Osama, put that gun down'

THE GREAT pension saga in Fiji has drawn a satirical response from one of Café Pacific's regular readers - "Sas". This follows a news item that revealed a rather vindictive response from the Fiji regime towards founding coup leader Sitiveni Rabuka (not content with one coup, he pulled off two in 1987 - four months apart). Rabuka's government pension was cut off. The Citizens' Constitutional Forum warned that stopping pensions was an abuse of power and a violation of International Labour Organisation (ILO) conventions. (Cartoon: Kaciwasa)

Open letter to the Prime Minister, 7 February 2010

Dear Commodore Bainimarama,

I am writing to you in great distress, as I fear that both my pension of $60 a month and my child’s education are in jeopardy because of my failure to be a good person and I beg your forgiveness.

It began the other day when my five-year-old son Osama asked if he could come and shop with me in town. I said “Yes” to him and Osama seemed so happy. We were going to Rups Store in Suva, as there my small salary seems to be worth more than in Proud’s Duty Free Shop.

We arrived in Rups luxurious store and Osama asked me to buy him something. My money was limited and I said “No” to his repeated cries. Without my consent he took something from a shelf.

I immediately told him he had to put the object back, which I noticed was a plastic toy gun. My son began to defy me so I had to raise my voice. I said in a clear strong voice: “Osama, put that gun down”.

I wished I had never said those words. The whole shop stopped. People threw themselves on the floor. Men screamed and others began to pray. Within seconds a platoon of soldiers rushed into the store firing guns in all directions. It was dreadful to watch the horror unfolding before my eyes at the bullets hitting cups, saucers and shooting holes in saris.

The staff on duty were terrified. One officer shouted out, “Where is he?” A teenage shop assistant dried her tears and pointed at Osama. Six soldiers jumped on my four-year-old son, held him down and called for re-enforcements. An army officer came into the room and took control.

“Remove his gun,” screamed the officer. Six soldiers twisted Osama’s arm to get the gun. He was so angry and kept screaming: “I want a gun, I want a gun."

The gun was finally wrested away from Osama and the officer asked him for his name and address. He became stubborn and refused to talk. The officer looked at me and asked if I was his father. I nodded and was immediately stripped naked in the shop and searched for guns, bombs or weapons of mass destruction imported from Australia or New Zealand through their High Commissions.

Fortunately, I had none, as I am a poor man and I have never left Suva.

All the army officer could find was my pension book. It was taken away from me. The officer who looked at it, snapped at me: “We will keep this. We know how to deal with you”.

I felt distressed and asked if I could leave. I was then given permission to go home.

The first question as I entered my front door was from my wife, asking why Osama was not with me. It was only then I remembered I had left him behind. So I went back to Rups Store, but he was gone.

I noticed that they already had a large sale sign up saying damaged cup and saucers and saris were being sold at a special cheap price. It was a golden opportunity to get a bargain, so I bought my wife a sari with bullet holes in it.

I knew that she would be able to repair it and wear it on Fiji Independence Day to celebrate the progress of Fiji towards freedom and wealth for all.

I went home feeling happy that I had a bargain that would make my hardworking wife happy. But she said I had bought the wrong colour sari and she again asked where Osama was.

I returned to Rups Store to look for Osama. He had been taken to the Queen Elizabeth army barracks. Immediately I went there and was placed under armed guard. I was strip searched again for weapons of mass destruction and then led through several corridors to the cell where Osama was being I interrogated. I could hear him screaming: “No, no, no."

He was wild and was refusing to answer questions. Whenever a soldier waved a gun in front at him to make him talk, he began screaming: “I want that gun, I want that gun”.

Two colonels were conducting the investigation, but it was no use. Osama was obstinate.

Many hours later when it was dark I was allowed to take Osama home with the words of the colonels echoing in my ears: “We will fix both you and him, bro.”

We got home and fed Osama, put him to bed and I comforted my wife. Late that night I thought of what else I could do to ask you, my Commodore, my appointed leader, to forgive Osama for his actions. My wife and I decided to make Osama write a letter of apology for his actions. We would then send it to the newspapers to be published.

In the morning, Osama was in a good mood as he had slept well and he began writing the letter. This pleased his mother and me. When the letter was finished we could not read it as we are both illiterate, and our hopes for the future are with little Osama.

The letter was duly published but I regret that I have to apologise for what he said. Instead of writing “Dear Sir” at the start of the letter, he wrote “Dear Cur”. Please forgive him this spelling mistake, he is a small boy. He also said you were a “great free loader” when he meant to say “great Fiji leader”

It appears your media “minders” at the newspapers did not pick up the errors.

I beg of you to return my pension, which I use to feed myself, Osama, my wife and 20 other relatives who cannot find paid work. The pension also pays for Osama’s education.

To deprive me of my pension, because of my small son’s actions, means that we will join the almost one hundred thousand squatters living in squalor between Vatuwaqa and Nausori. When I asked the squatters in Vatuwaqa if we join them, they told us to go away as the army had promised them work and new homes if they just kept making people chatter.

I think they mean the People’s Charter.

I humbly request the return of my pension to feed my family and to buy Osama a school bag. He is my future, I want him to have a good education and a job when he grows up so that he may never again address you as “Dear Cur”.

With affection for your promises.




Radio Australia, 22 January 2010:
Former Fiji PM's vehicle confiscated, pension cut

Former Fiji prime minister and coup leader, Sitiveni Rabuka, has had his government pension cancelled by the interim government.

That man who staged Fiji's first ever coup in 1987 has had his benefits taken off him, including a government-supplied four wheel drive vehicle, which was confiscated from him on the spot.

Last week the interim prime minister, Commodore Frank Bainimarama, announced that Fiji pensioners who criticise his government will have their pensions stopped.

Mr Rabuka told Radio Australia's Pacific Beat programme he had to walk an hour back to his village when the soldiers who brought him a letter about his pension being stopped took his vehicle while he was out picking coconuts.

Citizens' Constitutional Forum media release, 13 January 2010:
Stopping pension an abuse of power and violation of ILO Conventions

The Interim Government will be committing acts of abuse of power and misuse of funds, as well as violating International Labour Organisation (ILO) conventions if it passes a decree to stop pension payments to its critics, says the Citizens’ Constitutional Forum (CCF).

Interim Prime Minister Commodore Voreqe Bainimarama revealed in the daily news today that this decree was passed last week, however, the decree has not yet become available to the public, and rumours are it is yet to be created

NB. Commodore Bainimarama approved the draft of the People’s Charter in December 2008 with the eleven key pillars for Fiji’s future development.

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