Monday, July 31, 2000,
Chandigarh, India


M A I N   N E W S

30 Indians held hostage, freed

LABASA (Fiji), July 30 (Reuters) — Fijian nationalist supporters of jailed coup leader George Speight held at least 30 ethnic Indians hostage in a remote farming district today, but released them after other villagers intervened.

A witness told Reuters a group of 16 youths took the ethnic Indians hostage at the remote Dreketi farming settlement for about two hours, but were told they were exacerbating problems on Fiji’s second largest island of Vanua Levu.

“The young men agreed to release them and apologised to the families in the traditional way,” said local resident Rafaele Waqa, who helped settle the local crisis.

Tension escalated in the racially divided country ahead of a military deadline for rebels holding up to 40 soldiers at the Army barracks at nearby Labasa to release the men.

But Fiji’s military today extended the deadline by 24 hours, saying the long-running mutiny in support of Speight was expected to be resolved peacefully tomorrow. “We should have some closure by tomorrow. So we’ve agreed to their request to extend the deadline by 24 hours,” spokesman Major Howard Politini said.

Witnesses said they heard four or five shots as the rebel supporters rampaged through the farming community in Macuata province near here before taking the hostages.

Labasa has seen most of the unrest by nationalist rebels following Speight’s arrest at the start of a military crackdown on Wednesday.

At least 40 ethnic Indians were taken hostage there on Thursday before the military negotiated their release.

Ousted ethnic Indian Prime Minister Mahendra Chaudhry left Fiji for the first time since his government was toppled by Speight’s rebels on May 19.

Mr Chaudhry, who was held hostage in Parliament for 56 days with most of his Cabinet, flew to Australia where he is scheduled to meet Prime Minister John Howard tomorrow.

“It will give me an opportunity to let me convey again our concern and distress about what is happening in Fiji,” Mr Howard told mediapersons in Sydney. Australia, New Zealand, Britain and the USA have already imposed sanctions on Fiji.

Mr Chaudhry, who has called for his government to be reinstated, again ruled out forming a government in exile for now.

“That is an option that was considered but it is an option that has not been taken as yet,” he told Australian Broadcasting Corporation on arrival in Sydney.

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