1 Jun 2005

Fiji military to be present at parliament tomorrow over controversial bill

1:20 pm on 1 June 2005

The Fiji military says officers will be present at parliament again tomorrow when the prime minister, Laisenia Qarase, speaks on the controversial Reconciliation and Unity bill.

29 senior military officers sat in the public gallery yesterday in a silent protest at the government's tabling of the bill which contains amnesty provisions that could see coup convicts go free and others granted immunity from prosecution.

Some government MPs said their presence was intimidating and the military was over-reacting.

But, the military spokesman, Captain Neumi Leweni, says officers will show up again tomorrow to show people that they mean what they say when they say they don't agree with the bill.

"We don't think there is anything that should be able to stop any citizen of this country wanting to sit at the gallery. We don't relinquish our status as citizens of the country when we become soldiers. We are still very much citizens of this country so we have the rights that any other citizens have."

Captain Leweni says the military is trying to make an appointment with the Home Affairs minister, Josefa Vosanibola, to let him know the steps and strategies the military will be taking over the bill.

A high level source says the military plan to ask the president not to sign the bill although Captain Leweni declined to confirm this.

A Fiji Labour MP says he is concerned about what steps the military will take to prevent the bill from becoming law.

Daniel Urai says the Labour party is holding to its plan to boycott parliament tomorrow by walking out when the bill goes through its second reading.

But, he says he was concerned about the presence of senior military officers in the public gallery when the bill was tabled yesterday.

Mr Urai says this is worrying and he's hoping there's no threat to the democratic system.

The concern is the military taking over and removing this system. The view now is there's a lot greater section of the Fiji community who are not happy with this bill and the military - we will wait to see what action they'll take. They have some legal avenue available to them, and I hope they'll move towards that direction.

Labour MP, Daniel Urai.