Mar 17, 2007

Pacific Islands Forum News March 17, 2007

HOT OFF THE PRESS - Source : ABC online

Pacific Island Forum reaches compromise on Fiji

AM - Saturday, 17 March , 2007 08:21:17
Reporter: Campbell Cooney

ELIZABETH JACKSON: Negotiations over Fiji's political future have reached what appears to be a happy compromise.

Foreign Ministers at the Pacific Island Forum have met in Vanuatu to discuss Fiji's return to democracy after last year's coup by Commodore Frank Bainimarama.

A recent report by the forum's Eminent Person's Group had recommended that Commodore Bainimarama step down as interim prime minister and hold elections within two years instead of three years, as planned.

With the support of Melanesian member nations, Fiji seems ready to meet the forum halfway.

The ABC's Pacific Correspondent, Campbell Cooney, was at the meeting.

CAMPBELL COONEY: Since last year's coup both Australia and New Zealand have sung from the same hymnbook, maintaining a strong criticism of Fiji's leaders at every opportunity.

But other Pacific countries have been keeping quiet.

David Adeang is the Foreign Minister for Nauru.

DAVID ADEANG: I think we'll probably go along with consensus that comes out of the meeting. That will be our, I think, our best outcome.

CAMPBELL COONEY: In February, a Pacific Islands mandated Eminent Person's Group, including former Australian defence chief General Peter Cosgrove, visited Fiji to investigate the reasons for the coup, and to identify how to help the country return to democratic rule.

The groups wrote a confidential report with a number of recommendations. Soon after, that report was leaked and eagerly consumed by media outlets across the Pacific.

And the recommendations pull no punches - Fiji to hold elections within two years - Commodore Frank Bainimarama had said elections were between three and five years away - that the Commodore stand down as interim Prime Minister, and that all human rights abuses to end immediately.

There was of course a sweetener. If Fiji took the EPG's advice, the forum nations would provide financial and manpower assistance to help fight corruption, improve the judicial system and run the elections.

For Fiji's delegation the meeting was a chance to give their side of the story.

Interim Attorney-General Aiyaz Sayed Khaiyum.

AIYAZ SAYED KHAIYUM: I think there is a bit of misinformation about Fiji and what's been happening.

CAMPBELL COONEY: Nearly on schedule, the ministers went behind closed doors and under air conditioners, escaping the heat and humidity of the tropics.

Fours hours later the meeting was finished, producing a very diplomatically phrased outcomes statement, and, having won a commitment from Fiji, it would look at shortening its election timetable to meet the EPG's recommendations.

Fiji still isn't saying when elections will be held, but for the ministers, the fact they are considering it is a win of sorts.

Alexander Downer:

ALEXANDER DOWNER: They've affirmed the EPG report, and that's 18 months to two years.

CAMPBELL COONEY: New Zealand's Foreign Minister, Winston Peters, was also happy. But he wasn't about to go off message on Fiji.

WINSTON PETERS: Walking into a Prime Minister's office with a gun one day and removing the Prime Minister is not an improvement on anything. And there should not be any compromise about that.

REPORTER: So you think it could be done sooner than three years?

WINSTON PETERS: Undoubtedly.

If East Timor can have an election in a matter of months, so can Fiji.

CAMPBELL COONEY: In three months, the Eminent Person's Group will investigate if Fiji has made progress. If so, the assistance and dialogue from the Pacific Forum Nations may start flowing.

But there is one glaring omission. As mentioned, one of the EPG's main recommendations was that Commodore Bainimarama step down as interim Prime Minister. That gets no mention in the outcome statement.

Australia's Foreign Minister, Alexander Downer, says it's clear that's one recommendation Fiji won't be meeting.

ALEXANDER DOWNER: The interim Government is making it pretty clear that it doesn't see Commodore Bainimarama standing down until there are elections. That's the point they made.

REPORTER: Is that acceptable?

ALEXANDER DOWNER: Well, there's not much we can do about it.

ELIZABETH JACKSON: Foreign Minister Alexander Downer ending Campbell Cooney's report.


Chief said...

Vinaka Bubu for this...And I love the thought for the day about fools, tyrants and dictators...So true.

Anonymous said...

Don't forget though, that the Forum response sets the "low water mark" for pretty much every other nation and international body in terms of responding to the Regime. This means that the IG will strongly suspect now that the EU Sugar restructure aid will almost certainly not be forthcoming now without some major about-face from Frank. That suspension will spell all kinds of trouble for an economy already in dire straights -trouble that will become more and more difficult to ignore as time ticks by. It will also be politically costly, if not suicidal, for Mahen, who has already lost a lot of mana with the Union movement over the civil service pay cut. Although his acute political instincts didn't save him in 2000, you'd have to think they'd kick in eventually here and cause him to abandon Frank's foundering ship sooner or later. So make no mistake - the beginning of the regime's end started with Friday's Forum declaration. It's just a matter of how long it takes for the "groupthink goons in green" to see the writing on the wall!