#header-inner img {margin: 0 auto !important; #header-inner {text-align: Center ;} Fiji Coupfourpointfive: 2010-01-10

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Friday, January 15, 2010

Fijian Thaw

Despite protestations to the contrary, there seems to have been a precipitous about-face in the attitude of the New Zealand Government towards Fiji.

Late last week during a below-the-radar visit to the Pacific nation, Foreign Affairs Minister Murray McCully met his counterpart in Frank Bainimarama's military regime, Ratu Inoke Kubuabola.

During the encounter both countries agreed to improve diplomatic relations with appointments to Suva and Wellington respectively of additional counsellor positions, and agreements, in principle, to appoint deputy heads of mission in both capitals.

Whether the lodging of deputy heads of mission in each capital, rather than heads of mission, would lessen the likelihood of the series of expulsions initiated at the behest of the military regime and which have dogged diplomatic engagement between both Australia and New Zealand, and Fiji, over the last year or so, remains unclear, for Mr McCully was adamant that the bigger picture of relations between the two countries remained as it had been.

"None of this signals a change to New Zealand's substantive policy with regard to the regime in Fiji, nor does it signal any change in the sanctions regime currently in place," the Foreign Minister said.

"But it does signal a determination to improve the relationship, and in particular to be able to agree and disagree about some things."

Primary among those matters likely to remain disagreeable to Mr Bainimarama, when aired by New Zealand or Australian diplomats, is the illegitimate status of his regime and the sanctionable failure yet to make significant progress towards holding free and fair elections; or to lift anti-democratic measures against the media in the island nation.

And neither, by all indications, is the New Zealand Government about to let bygones be bygones and fly the white flag of capitulation in the Fijian capital.

So what changed? What changed was the prospective visit to the region of the United States Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton.

Mr McCully had admitted that the situation in Fiji was likely to be discussed with Mrs Clinton, but denied the proximity of the now postponed visit and the rapprochement with Fiji was anything other than coincidence.
New Zealand and Australia are regarded warmly in Washington for their influence in the Pacific, a sphere of interest and friendship that the US would be loath to let slip.

The fear of seeing a chain of tiny Pacific nations succumb to the expansive charms and pecuniary largesse of another superpower is likely to be pressing in both the Pentagon and the White House.

There is certainly evidence that Fiji has been courted through a persistent and generous aid offensive from Beijing, and it is perhaps this potential alliance - and his awareness of the likely response to it by the US, New Zealand and Australia - that allows Mr Bainimarama to strut and procrastinate in the face of pressure for reform.

In the year following the self-appointed prime minister's 2006 coup, which ousted the legitimate Fijian government, Chinese pledges to the country increased seven-fold from $US23 million in 2006 to $US161 million in 2007.

Much of this has gone towards infrastructure projects and, unlike aid from Western nations, does not appear to date to have been tied to moves back towards democracy.

China's relationship with other "outlaw" regimes, such as Sudan and Myanmar, would suggest that this is unlikely to change.

Mr Bainimarama has cultivated the relationship with the north and while the benefits might appears to tilt heavily in Fiji's favour, there will have been much Western diplomatic "noise" about China's creeping influence in the Pacific as a result of it.

For all its errant ways, Fiji remains an important force in the Pacific, with the potential to influence smaller nations.

It is likely that behind the scenes diplomats have been determinedly canvassing approaches with their political masters on how to loosen the stalemate paralysing the countries' relationship.

In all the circumstances, it would be surprising if the imminent arrival of Mrs Clinton had not persuaded the Minister of Foreign Affairs and his policy specialists to try a little harder at breaching the impasse - Otago Daily Times

Softly, softly when dealing with pariah

There is more than a hint of Barack Obama in this country's attempt to rebuild its diplomatic relations with Fiji. The American President's foreign policy is based around diplomacy and dialogue.

Doubtless, his Administration would have been cheered by discussions in Suva last weekend between Foreign Minister Murray McCully and his military-appointed Fijian counterpart that led to each appointing a "counsellor" and deputy head of mission. In principle, this opening of communications is to be applauded.

There needs, however, to be a few caveats, given the nature of the military regime headed by Commodore Frank Bainimarama.

Mr McCully has tried to establish these. He insists there has been no change in policy towards the regime. He also says the Government is not reconsidering sanctions against regime leaders, the military and their families entering New Zealand.

What is being signalled, he says, is "a determination to improve the relationship and, in particular, to be able to agree to disagree about some things".

This needs to be constantly restated, and New Zealand must reiterate its concerns as long as the situation in Fiji remains unchanged.

If not, Commodore Bainimarama is quite willing to manipulate such an olive branch to his own ends. Already, he has told an Indian radio station in Auckland that "this is very significant for the Government and people of Fiji. For us ... it is about recognition". New Zealand's decision, he suggested, meant Fiji was seen as a sovereign nation charting its own path.

Based on Mr McCully's statement, it means nothing of the sort. But Commodore Bainimarama is ready to seize on such contact to promote himself and his wretched methods to the Fijian people.

That should not surprise the Key Government. When it came to power, it was clearly prepared to adopt a different approach to Fiji. Commodore Bainimarama, however, seemed deaf to the potential. Soon, he was threatening to expel New Zealand's high commissioner over a refusal to renew a study visa for an official's son.

The threat was carried out, and the regime has been all too ready to expel other New Zealand and Australian senior diplomats.

Mr McCully's approach may owe something to a belief that the sanctions imposed by the previous Government are not working. But Commodore Bainimarama is obviously irritated by the travel ban.

In his radio interview, he pointed to the sanctions while suggesting the New Zealand approach was very confusing. "The whole idea behind it is to move toward understanding of what we want to do and needs to be done, and that means lifting sanctions."

New Zealand's policy means nothing of the sort, of course. It has good cause to be annoyed at the commodore's response. But it should not be surprised. The regime has shown little inclination to engage meaningfully with the international community.

Despite protests, it has abrogated the constitution, squashed dissent, curbed free speech and dishonoured pledges for a return to democracy. This has led to pariah status and Fiji's suspension from the Pacific Islands Forum and the Commonwealth.

Mr McCully talks of a process of "small steps". Given Commodore Bainimarama's record, that seems certain to be the case. A best-case scenario would see his regime persuaded to bring forward its election date of 2014. At worst, the dialogue with New Zealand will be hijacked to suggest a form of legitimacy.

That must not be allowed to happen. Sanctions must accompany diplomacy until Commodore Bainimarama shows a genuine commitment to return to the barracks- NZ Herald Editorial

Progress with Fiji?:Nelson Mail Editorial

NELSON (The Nelson Mail/Pacific Media Watch): Perhaps President Barack Obama means it when he promotes war as a means to peace.

Perhaps Commodore Frank Bainimarama means it when he declares that the ultimate goal of his military dictatorship is democracy. Both positions seem, on the surface, to be equally self-contradictory. Time will tell whether reality matches declared intent.

With what is left of New Zealand's relationship with Fiji on the brinkof collapse, our government's attempt to wind back the tension by a quarter turn is appropriate. However, that does not suggest that this country's position on the illegal Fijian regime should change, or even that it might. As problematic as the election by which the previous Fijian government assumed power might have been – especially the inadequate rolls on which it was based – and as potentially damaging as some of the deposed Qarase government's decisions seemed, it did have far greater legitimacy than the current dictatorship.

The commodore might feel he is misunderstood by the Western world, and perhaps more heed could be taken of the underlying issues which he points to in attempting to justify his coup. However, his actions since 2006 have been indistinguishable from those of any other common or garden variety dictator. He has sacked judges for simply attempting to do their job. He has imposed toxic demands on the media and suppressed opposition, sometimes brutally. He has given power to cronies and sycophants while proving powerless to stop his country's economy from plummeting.

On his watch, Fiji has become an international no-go-zone, and his people have suffered. His attempts to paint New Zealand and Australia as big brother bullies are risible, given his own power-retaining methods. He has made international promises – including to hold an election by early this year – and just as easily reneged. He now claims his country won't be ready to go to the polls until 2014. Who'd have guessed drawing up new rolls for a nation of less than one million would prove so difficult?

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Leweni denies critics pensions will be cut

Fiji's Ministry of Information has denied a statement by interim Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama that the pensions of critics are being cut.

Bainimarama told Radio Fiji his regime passed a decree last week and already stopped the pensions of its critics from this week.

But the Permanent Secretary for Information, Lieutenant Colonel Neumi Leweni told Radio New Zealand nobody has had their pension stopped.

The Fiji’s Citizens Constitutional Forum says by stopping pension payments to its critics, the interim regime is abusing its powers.

Bainimarama says NZ's stand confusing

Fiji's interim prime minister Frank Bainimarama says  New Zealand’s decision to agree on improving relations with Fiji while maintaining sanctions is ‘confusing’.

Yesterday NZ's Foreign Minister Murray McCully said the two countries had agreed to improve relations following talks with his Fijian counterpart Ratu Inoke Kubuabola in Nadi last week.

But  Bainimarama reportedly told Auckland based Radio Tarana, that sanctions should be lifted.

“That is very confusing because that goes against all the gist of all the press statements that have come from New Zealand foreign affairs."

“The whole idea behind it is to move toward understanding of what we want to do and needs to be done and that means lifting the sanctions."

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

'They deported me because I'm married to Brij Lal'

Dr Padma Lal, who was born in Fiji but is an Australian citizen, told Radio Australia's Pacific Beat program she was given no reason for her expulsion on Tuesday morning.

But she says she believes it is due to her marriage to Professor Brij Lal, a Fijian-born academic who helped write the country's 1997 constitution.

Professor Lal, also an Australian citizen, has spoken criticially of Fiji's interim military government.

He was expelled in November, after making comments to Australian media about Fiji's diplomatic row with Australia and New Zealand.

Dr Padma Lal had been working for the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, based in Suva, on issues of mangrove management, disaster risk management and climate change.

"The work that I'm doing in Fiji or in the Pacific is really for the Pacific and Fiji," she said in a telephone interview from her home in Canberra.

"That's totally apolitical. So as far as I can see, I cannot see any reason why they would detain me other than perhaps (because) I'm married to Professor Brij Lal."

Dr Lal says she was taken aside on Monday at Nadi Airport as she returned from an overseas trip.

"I asked as to why I was not allowed entry and they said well there're no reasons for it," she said.

"Pressing further on that, they basically said we don't need to give any reasons, and then later on they said that you don't have a return ticket. I mentioned that I have a valid visa, and in that valid visa category I don't need a return ticket."

Dr Lal says according to paperwork shown her by immigration officers, her deportation was ordered directly by Commodore Bainimarama

After more than three hours, Dr Lal says she was taken to a hotel room - without a telephone. Her mobile phone and computer were also confiscated.

"There was an immigration officer sitting outside, together with this hotel security person by the looks of it, and the person stayed there all night," she said.

Dr Lal says she was not physically harmed, but was told that she would be detained if she refused to give up her computer.

She says she hopes one day to be allowed to return to Fiji.

As for being deported: "I'm angry and I'm disappointed".

"Angry for obvious reasons, disappointed to see what my beloved country that I was born and brought up in and I still feel quite strongly about", she said.

"Where it's going and the fact that we really do not have freedom of movement, freedom of speech, basic human rights" - Radio Australia

Sayed Khaiyum warns Jalal

Fiji human rights lawyer Imrana Jalal has been warned by a senior figure in the interim government not to comment about a court case brought against her by the Independent Commission Against Corruption.

Ms Jalal says the case, which centres on allegations she was operating a business without a licence, has been brought against her because she's a critic of the coup-installed government.

Interim Attorney-General Aiyaz Sayed-Khaium told Radio Australia says she is trying use the overseas media to portray herself as a victim.

Listen to the interview: http://www.radioaustralia.net.au/pacbeat/stories/201001/s2790804.htm

Breaking News: Wife of Brij Lal expelled

The wife of historian Brij Lal, Dr Padma Narsey Lal, was this morning refused entry by the interim regimes' Immigration Department, after she arrived home from Australia.

Dr Padma Lal, who works for the Fiji Office of International Union for Conservation of Nature, arrived at Nadi Airport from Sydney after spending Christmas and New Year at the Lals' Canberra home.

Sources have confirmed to Coupfourpointfive that Dr Lal arrived at Nadi before 7pm on Monday night and was immediately detained by  immigration officials. Her laptop and mobile phone were seized and she was taken to a detention house on the outskirts of the airport, where she was under detention for the night.

She was then taken to the airport this morning and put onboard the Sydney flight that departed Nadi before 9am. Sources say immigration authorities refused to return her mobile phone and laptop. She was also refused permission to contact her husband Profesor Lal in Canberra.

Sources add when Dr Lal landed at Sydney Airport before noon today, she was traumatised by the entire experience. She arrived back in Canberra this afternoon.

In early November last year, Professor Brij Lal was arrested at his Suva Point Home and locked up at the Military's Queen Elizabeth Barracks in Nabua after commenting on the expulsion of the New Zealand and Australian High Commission diplomats.

He was physically roughed up and verbally abused, spat at by Lieutenant Sitiveni Qiliho and ordered to leave Fiji within 24 hours.

Sources say Dr Lal had travelled out of Fiji a few days after the expulsion of her husband on work related matters and had returned to Fiji without being harassed or qustioned. She left for Canberra in mid-December.

The Lals have a home in Suva. They are former Fiji residents but hold Australian citizenship. Dr Lal has a valid work permit to work for the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

Dr Padma Lal has not written or published any political commentaries about the deteriorating Fiji situation since the December 2006 coup.