Fiji army fugitive claims civilians are tortured
- From: The Australian
- May 21, 2011
COLONEL Uluilakeba Mara, a "fugitive" from the military regime in Fiji, which is seeking his extradition from Tonga, says civilians are regularly tortured at the Queen Elizabeth barracks in Suva.
The youngest son of Fiji's founding father Ratu Kamisese Mara and the brother of the President's wife, he also said the elections were "very unlikely" to happen in 2014 as foreshadowed by military ruler Frank Bainimarama, and that even if they did take place, only approved parties would be allowed to participate.
Colonel Mara, who was the fourth-most senior military officer, was charged with sedition before he was rescued by a Tongan navy vessel.
The Prime Minister of Samoa, Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi, has thrown his support behind Tonga in the stand-off: "Commodore Bainimarama should be thanking the Tongan government for rescuing Mara," who claimed he had been in trouble on a fishing trip when the Tongans picked him up.
The Samoan Prime Minister said: "Perhaps that's what happens when (Bainimarama) spends all his time in politics, leaving the navy headless."
Commodore Bainimarama said investigations were being conducted into whether others helped Colonel Mara escape.
But the Fiji government has said it will not respond to Colonel Mara's latest claims about torture and about elections. The government is drafting a decree, according to the Australian and New Zealand trade union councils, to outlaw unions in what it views as "critical industries" -- including airlines and sugar, two of the country's biggest employers. The union organisations both say they have been informed that such companies and sectors will be covered by the imminent Critical Industries Employment Decree.
Ged Kearney, the ACTU president, called on Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd to "express alarm" about this development.
"A series of decisions introduced by (the regime) have curtailed human rights and suppressed dissenting views," she said. "The regime has adopted intimidation tactics to instil fear in workers and trade unions."
Legislation outlawing unions in the sugar industry would seriously undermine the power base of former prime minister Mahendra Chaudhry, the Labour Party leader who although an early supporter of the regime, has recently become a leading critic and is facing court charges.
Mr Chaudhry is the longtime leader of the Fiji National Farmers Union, which represents most growers of sugar, a crop whose future is under severe threat.
By contrast, Brian Anderson, the president of the Australia Fiji Business Council, recently called on Canberra to lift sanctions barring people who accept roles in the Fiji regime from travelling to or through Australia.