New Zealand's foreign affairs minister has reiterated to media in Hong Kong that his government won't drop travel bans on Fiji's military regime unless its Pacific neighbor moves toward democratic rule, despite a recent easing in tensions between the two countries.
The sanctions were imposed after a military coup in December 2006 ousted Fiji's democratically elected government.
Since then, self-appointed prime minister Commodore Frank Bainimarama has tightened his grip on power, overturning the constitution last April, firing all judges, imposing widespread media censorship, expelling foreign journalists and arresting people that oppose him.
New Zealand's criticism of Bainimarama's rule prompted Fiji to expel three senior New Zealand diplomats over the past two years, including its head of mission. New Zealand expelled the head of Fiji's mission in response.
Recent talks have paved the way for New Zealand to reappoint some diplomats to the Fiji capital, Suva, earlier this year, but Bainimarama said last month he won't approve the appointment of a high commissioner unless Wellington lifts its sanctions.
The government, however, isn't prepared to budge on sanctions barring Fiji officials from entering or traveling through New Zealand until Bainimarama shows his commitment to democracy, New Zealand's Foreign Minister Murray McCully said on Friday. Neighboring Australia has a similar ban, making travel from the isolated island state more difficult.
"We want to work to try to improve things, but we can't ignore the fact that there are some real issues around the rule of law and human rights and the makings of democratic institutions that are important to us, that are important to the whole of the Pacific," McCully told the AP in Hong Kong.
"And if Fiji wants us to move on the sanctions, then the answer is obvious: They have to move toward the holding of elections and the establishment of democratic institutions."
Bainimarama initially said he would hold elections in 2009, but later reneged and pushed the date back to 2014, saying the constitution and electoral systems need to be reformed and corruption eliminated.-AP