Monday, July 10, 2000,
Chandigarh, India


M A I N   N E W S

Pact to end Fiji crisis signed
Hostages to be released on Thursday

SUVA, July 9 (AP) — Coup leader George Speight and military commander Commodore Frank Bainimarama signed an agreement today to end Fiji’s seven-week hostage crisis.

Under the deal, Speight’s 27 hostages, including deposed Prime Minister Mahendra Chaudhry, will be released on Thursday before a meeting of influential tribal chiefs. The rebels also will turn in their weapons.

The Great Council of Chiefs, made up of about 50 tribal leaders from across Fiji, will meet to select a new President, Vice-President and a new interim civilian government to guide Fiji back to democracy.

The military installed an interim government just days ago, but Speight rejected it as he had no say in its formation.

The council cannot meet before Thursday because some chiefs have to travel from remote islands.

Although the hostage release is days away and any deal could still unravel, there was a general hope that the agreement would hold.

Speight and his rebels have never before signed an agreement despite weeks of intense negotiations.

Seated at a small table in front of a large traditional painting on the rear lawn of the Vice-President’s official residence, Bainimarama signed first, followed by Speight.

The deal “is not the end, it is the beginning of a long journey,” a somber Bainimarama said. “We must be united.”

Speight echoed his words, saying Fiji’s future would not be easy. But he also sought to justify his actions.

“I believe what I started reflects a deep desire in the hearts of all Fijians,” he said.

The signing represented victory for Speight, who stormed Parliament with six other gunmen May 19, saying he wanted more power for indigenous Fijians and to disenfranchise the country’s ethnic Indian minority.

The military will offer amnesty to all those involved in civil disturbances since Speight took the government hostage.

Although Speight was clearly delighted at the outcome, the agreement is likely to make Fiji an international pariah.

Governments, including the USA and key trading partners Australia, New Zealand and the European Union have threatened economic sanctions unless Fiji returns to full multi-racial democracy.

The military seized control 10 days after Speight’s coup and installed Bainimarama as head of state.

The deal represented a total cave in to Speight, who had long called for the chiefs to be allowed to settle the crisis.

Military negotiators already have agreed to most of Speight’s demands, including deposing Mahendra Chaudhry, the first Fijian of Indian ancestry to lead the country, and scrapping the multi-racial 1997 Constitution.

Today there were also reports that two police stations, in the towns of Savu Savu and Eaqaqa on the northern island of Vanua Levu, were occupied by Speight supporters. No further details were immediately available.

The fate of 28 other hostages, snatched yesterday, was unclear, but they likely also would be released if Speight gave the word.

The new hostages were taken by about 100 Speight supporters in the town of Korovou, about 60 km outside Suva.

Nobody was injured in the seizure.

The military returned to the negotiating table following a wave of civil unrest including local landowners shutting down the largest island’s main hydroelectric power station and villagers blocking the main road linking the capital Suva with Nadi, where the international airport is located.

Fiftyone per cent of the 812,000 population are indigenous Fijians and many resent the clout of ethnic Indians, who account for 44 per cent and dominated the ousted government.

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