4 Apr 2005

Fiji's lands minister jailed for 8 months for coup offences

8:15 pm on 4 April 2005

Fiji's lands minister and Vanua Levu high chief, Ratu Naiqama Lalabalavu, has been jailed for eight months for coup related offences.

Radio Legend reports that also jailed for eight months are government senator Ratu Josefa Dimuri, and two other Vanua Levu chiefs - one of whom is on the Great Council of Chiefs.

Ratu Naiqama is the parliamentary leader of the junior partner in the coalition government, the Conservative Alliance Matanitu Vanua, while Ratu Josefa is its general secretary.

All four were charged with illegal assembly at the Sukanaivalu Barracks in Labasa during an army mutiny at the height of the 2000 coup.

Magistrate Sunil Kumar is quoted as saying he did not consider a suspended sentence for the four as they had pleaded NOT guilty to the charges against them.

Mr Kumar said he took into consideration that the four were chiefs in their own right and could have stopped the illegal activities of the rebel soldiers.

He blamed the takeover of the Labasa police station, the beating up of police officers and loyal soldiers on the four chiefs who, he said, played a leading role in influencing the rebel soldiers to act criminally.

The magistrate said illegal assembly is a serious offence which led to instability and security problems at a time when the nation was looking to its leaders to calm the situation.

The four have been taken to Labasa prison where they will serve their term.

Their lawyers are quoted as saying they will lodge an appeal within 28 days.