Wednesday, May 24, 2000,
Chandigarh, India


M A I N   N E W S

Chiefs stand by Chaudhry
Rebels reject advice to free PM

SUVA, May 23 (Reuters) — The head of Fiji’s great Council of Chiefs today urged the leader of a coup attempt to free the country’s Prime Minister and other hostages he has been holding in Parliament.

Council Chairman Sitiveni Rabuka, who himself led a 1987 coup that overthrew an ethnic Indian-dominated government, told a news conference the chiefs did not support George Speight’s actions in claiming to have seized power in the name of ethnic Fijians.

Speight seized the hostages, including Fiji’s first ethnic Indian Prime Minister, Mr Mahendra Chaudhry, last Friday. Speight’s supporters accuse Mr Chaudhry of favouring Fiji’s economically dominant Indian minority.

Rabuka said the chiefs, who represent ethnic Fijians, “Do not approve of what Mr Speight has done although there is a lot of support for the (ethnic Fijian) cause.’’

Asked if he was concerned for the hostages, Rabuka said: “Yes, we are asking Mr Speight to release his hostages.’’

Mr Rabuka said the Council of Chiefs had adjourned for the night after deciding to support President Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara, who has claimed executive power under a state of emergency, rather than Speight, a failed Fijian businessman.

The leader of the attempted coup in Fiji George Speight, rebuffed pressure from traditional chiefs for him to free the country’s Prime Minister and other hostages he has been holding in Parliament.

In a statement quoted on independent website, Speight said Mr Mara must step down “Before the situation escalates and becomes uncontrollable by any authority in Fiji.”

Jo Nata, named by Speight as his information minister, told Australian Television tonight that Rabuka’s account of the council’s views was “a total fabrication”.

Asked if Speight would free the hostages, Nata replied: “No, we will not.”

Chiefs from Fiji’s Western District on the main island of Viti Levu are strongly backing Prime Minister Chaudhry and are reported to have threatened to break away from Fiji. Most of Fiji’s resources, including gold, timber and tourist facilities, are in the Western District.

Mr Mara has made it clear that Chaudhry, whose life is currently in danger, cannot expect to return to his job when it is all over.

In the besieged Parliament building gunfire was heard an AFP photographer said.

The rebels released four of their captives today.

Lawmaker Michael Columbus, who was suffering from the effects of diabetes, lawmaker Naresh Kumar, both members of Prime Minister Mahendra Chaudhry’s Labour Party, and two doctors held since Saturday when they entered parliament to treat Chaudhry were freed today, the report said.

Meanwhile, the acting leader of the Fijian Coalition government Ratu Tevita Momoedonu said Prime Minister Mahendra Chaudhry had suffered a “brutal assault” which has left him with serious internal injuries.


India talks tough

NEW DELHI, May 23 (UNI) — Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee said today that any move to oust the legitimately elected government in Fiji would be unacceptable to India.

Mr Vajpayee, who was talking to a group of relatives of Fiji Prime Minister Mahendra Chaudhary who is being held captive, expressed surprise that the coup leaders appeared to enjoy police protection and freedom of action. “They are in violation of the principles of the Harare declaration and the Millbrook action programme of the Commonwealth.”

The Prime Minister directed External Affairs Minister Jaswant Singh to take up the matter urgently with the Commonwealth Secretary- General and the British Government.


UN envoy heads for Fiji

WELLINGTON, May 23 (Reuters) — New Zealand’s Foreign Minister said on Tuesday that the United Nations would send a special representative to Fiji to give the world community’s response to the rebel takeover of the tiny Pacific island nation.

Phil Goff told Radio New Zealand that he had spoken with the UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan to brief him and express concern over the treatment of Prime Minister Mahendra Chaudhary.

LONDON: Commonwealth Secretary General Don McKinnon today headed for Fiji to press for a speedy return to constitutional rule following last week’s coup, the organisation announced here.

Mr McKinnon is to break off from a meeting with Commonwealth Youth Ministers in the Solomon Islands to travel to Fiji, the Commonwealth secretariat said.

He will join special UN envoy Sergio Vieira de Mello, the provisional UN administrator in East Timor, who left the East Timorese capital Dili today for Suva.

Earlier, Mr McKinnon said it was vital that any settlement was consistent with Fiji’s constitution and called for all hostages to be released unharmed. He has warned the coup leaders they risked pushing Fiji out of the Commonwealth. 


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