Thursday, November 30, 2006
Armed Fijian soldiers took control of the streets of Suva, Fiji just before dawn
In a show of force, the troops fired a mortar into the harbour and over Nukulau Island, where George Speight, leader of the Fiji Coup of 2000, is currently serving a term of life imprisonment for his role in the overthrow of the constitutional government. Most of the mortar rounds fell into the ocean.
Soldiers, travelling in a convoy of trucks, set up barricades on key roads that led into the central business district of Suva while others patrolled the city.
Major Neumi Leweni, a military spokesman, said that the activity is not a military coup in disguise. “The exercise is in anticipation of any foreign intervention and the [Fiji military] is taking all precautionary measures.” He pointed out to sea where an Australian black hawk helicopter had crashed and where three Australian warships were moored. Australian officials said the ships were there in case Australian citizens needed to be evacuated.
The black hawk helicopter that had crashed was attempting to land on the HMAS Kanimbla, and its passengers were Special Air Service soldiers. Referring to the crash, Major Leweni said: “[It] just confirms that there are other forces out there and that is exactly why we are doing this exercise”.
Talks in New Zealand between Laisenia Qarase, Prime Minister of Fiji, and , military commander Commodore Frank Bainimarama concluded without an agreement. Winston Peters, foreign minister for New Zealand, said the talks were “lengthy, serious and meaningful”, but ultimately unsuccessful. Mr. Qarase said the three hour talks were not long enough to get to any conclusion, “…it was a good start and there is need for further consultations on some of the issues.”
Mr Qarase arrived at Nadi via a Royal New Zealand Air Force plane and then flew on an Air Chatham Islands plan to Suva. He was met by questioning media. Mr Qarase remained quiet. Commodore Bainimarama also said nothing to the awaiting media when he arrived in Fiji on a commercial flight.
Mr Qarase has requested that all regional foreign ministers come to a meeting being held in Sydney, Australia tomorrow that is related to the coup threats.
Countries that are part of the Pacific Forum are able to help other member countries, if the government asks for help.
Ambassadors from the United States of America, Australia and Britain have all met with Fijian military officers to seek insurances that there wasn’t going to be a coup. Major Lewini responded angrily, “[It is] inappropriate for a civilian diplomat to visit a military camp and seek to speak directly to officers,” he said.
“I’m not aware anyone’s threatening foreign intervention. I can assure you New Zealand isn’t,” Helen Clark, Helen Clark, Prime Minister of New Zealand, said.
The military has said they will “clean up” the government if the armed forces do not get three controversial bills passed and all investigations into senior military officers are dropped.
The military has said that they do not need police permission to conduct such exercises.