21 Oct 2004

Lawyer for Fiji soldiers doubts assessors' credentials

8:37 am on 21 October 2004

A defence lawyer for some of the Fiji soldiers facing a court martial for their role in the 2000 coup has questioned the ethics of military officers sitting on the panel which will rule on the trial.

The Fiji Times reports that the lawyer, Sevuloni Valenitabua, has asked the officers how they could sit in judgment on his clients, when most of them were supporters of the 1987 military coups.

Mr Valenitabua said most officers on the panel supported Sitiveni Rabuka when overthrew the legally elected Bavadra government.

He said during the coup Fiji's head of state, Queen Elizabeth of Britain, was removed.

Mr Valenitabua asked the officers, led by Col Ilaisa Kacisolomone, whether they could in good conscience sit in judgment on those being court martialled for offences in 2000.

Two of the military panelists were replaced after lawyers claimed they were involved in beating up soldiers of the Counter Revolutionary Warfare Unit during their November 2000 mutiny.

The 58 soldiers face a joint charge of mutiny, wrongful confinement (of the Chaudhry government), and misprision of treason.