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ECONOMY-FIJI: &#39Smart Sanctions Worse Than Bomb Scares&#39

Shailendra Singh

SUVA, Oct 9 2007 (IPS) - Fiji&#39s interim government, already hit by Western smart sanctions, sees as motivated an Australian advisory hinting at impending violence in the capital and at possible &#39bomb attacks&#39.

The claim was made in the latest Australian government advisory which said: "We continue to receive credible information suggesting that the unresolved political situation could lead without warning to outbreaks of violence and civil unrest, in particular, in and around Suva."

It is thought that the warnings are linked to a case being heard in the High Court in which ousted prime minister Laisenia Qarase is challenging the removal of his government in last December’s military coup.

Defendants in the case are the interim Prime Minister and military commander Commodore Frank Bainimarama, the interim attorney general Aiyaz Saiyad-Khaiyum and others.

It is normal that when coup related cases are being heard, Australia and other countries warn their citizens to be vigilant because of the increased potential for violence. But the latest Australian advisory also spoke of cases of "intimidation of individuals and detentions by Fiji’s military forces (RFMF)&#39&#39.

‘’The RFMF has publicly warned of bomb attacks," said the advisory. But, in fact, the warnings came even as the interim government lifted Public Emergency Regulation (PER) on Sunday.

The regulation, which has a duration of 30 days, restricts public gatherings without prior approval from the police, intimidation, incitement of violence and any other disorderly behaviour or action that may hinder public safety.

Reactivated last month, the regulation was a response to public statements by Qarase and his party members. The military at the time said the statements posed a threat to public safety, although local and international critics dismissed it as an attempt to gag Qarase, and vociferously called for its removal.

An official from Qarase’s party Peceli Kinivuwai denied that their supporters were behind any moves to create trouble.

Senior military officers moved quickly to quell concerns raised in the advisory, which was reported widely in the local media on Tuesday. Col. Ratu Tevita Uluilakeba, told a local daily that there was no threat at all. "As far as we are concerned, there is nothing like that unless they (Australia) are planning to invade Fiji," Uluilakeba was quoted as saying.

Military spokesman Lt. Col. Mosese Tikoitoga pointed out that the emergency order was being lifted after a security assessment revealed ‘no threats to security in the country’. He added that the lifting of the PER indicated that the country was safe for investors and visitors.

Despite the uneasiness expressed by some overseas governments, Suva and the other parts of the country show no outward signs of any trouble or panic. Shops are keeping regular hours, schools remain open and people continue to go about their normal business.

More than any bomb scares there are real concerns here about the state of the economy. The European Union (EU) has announced that the release of the sugar allocation of four million euros (5.6 million US dollars) would be subject to the interim administration’s upholding human rights, the rule of law and the independence of the judiciary. It said all allegations of human rights infringement were to be investigated and dealt with in accordance with the various procedures and forums under the laws of Fiji.

The retailers’ association reported that spending remains depressed while tourism, another key sector, has been hit by a record low in hotel bookings.

In their Independence Day messages issued over the weekend, both President Ratu Josefa Iloilo and Bainimarama called for understanding from the international community. "I ask the international community to be patient with us. You have the power to build or destroy. I plead with you, help us," said Ratu Josefa.

He also called for unity in a country in which the already fraught relations between the two major races, Indo-Fijians and indigenous Fijians, have been further soured by coup. "On this Fiji Day (Oct. 6), I invite every citizen to come together to build a better Fiji for our children’s children," the President said.

Bainimarama, in his message to mark Fiji Day, said the interim government aimed to rebuild a "non-racial, culturally vibrant, well-governed, truly democratic nation that seeks progress and prosperity through merit based, equal opportunity and peace."

He said the interim government was committed to putting measures in place to arrest the further decline of the country’s economy, boost investor confidence, stabilise law and order and strengthen institutions that promote the rule of law and good governance.

"On this Fiji Day, I seek the goodwill of all the citizens of this nation, our bilateral and regional partners, and the international community to assist us to build a better Fiji for us all," Bainimarama said.

Earlier this month, Bainimarama, given a platform at the 62nd session of the United Nations General Assembly in New York, defended the coup, saying the RFMF could not sit back and see an unacceptable situation unfold in the country. He said his government had resolved to take measures necessary to convene free and fair elections as soon as practically possible.

Bainimarama decried the fact that Fiji’s closest neighbours in the Pacific had seen it fit to impose punitive measures on the country. "These powerful states are undermining our attempts to rebuild our nation on strong foundations, and undermining our attempts to appoint people of merit and honesty to our state institutions, regardless of race and religion.’’

"Current sanctions target any person appointed by the interim government. This is hypocrisy at its worst on part of those states as they are clearly undermining our efforts to promote and practice good governance. These actions, such as the travel bans, described as ‘smart sanctions’, have had a debilitating impact on our struggles to revive, to recover, and to reform," Bainimarama said.

Australia, New Zealand, the United States and the EU continue to put pressure on Fiji to return the country to democratic rule, but the interim regime says that there will be no elections until the country is ready, despite an earlier commitment made to the EU.

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