29 Nov 2006

Fiji military exercises as talks signal progress

8:27 pm on 29 November 2006

Fiji's military will begin full scale exercises from tonight to prepare to oppose any intervention by foreign military forces.

Beginning from midnight, troops in full battle gear will secure strategic areas in and around the capital and fire illumination rounds into the sea near Nukulau Island and the entrance to Suva Harbour.

The military spokesman, Major Neumi Leweni says the exercise is in anticipation of any foreign intervention which the army is not taking lightly.

He has urged citizens not to be alarmed but to take precautions and not travel too close to the areas where troops will be exercising.

Major Leweni says the decision to hold the exercises has been made by senior military officers and is not a directive from their commander, Commodore Frank Bainimarama.

Foreign ministers of Pacific Forum countries will meet in Sydney on Friday to discuss the Fiji situation in accordance with the Biketawa Declaration which has provision for intervention by a regional security force.

But the prime minister, Laisenia Qarase, has said previously that the regional countries will only be briefed on the situation and there will be no request for intervention.

Meanwhile talks have been held in New Zealand between Mr Qarase and Commodore Bainimarama.

The talks followed threats by the military against the government, raising fears of a coup.

The meeting was brokered by New Zealand's foreign minister, Winston Peters, who described the discussions as constructive.

He says New Zealand hosted the meeting in Wellington because it recognises that resolving the current situation in Fiji is fundamentally important to its future, and to the future of the wider Pacific.

Mr Qarase says key concerns were discussed.

"We covered basically all the issues that had been a matter of concern to our military commander. We have made substantial progress, there is a lot of follow-up work to be done and there could be further talks."

Asian diplomatic missions based in Suva have not issued any advisories to their citizens to avoid traveling to Fiji or for their nationals to leave.

Nor have any of their diplomatic staff left Fiji or the missions curtailed any of their operations.

This is despite Australia, New Zealand, Britain and the United States issuing such advisories cautioning their citizens not to travel and to leave if they are already there.

Australian warships in the western Pacific are reportedly standing by to evacuate their citizens.

The Chinese ambassador in Fiji, Cai Jian Pio, has told the Daily Post their embassy is still functioning normally.

Mr Cai says they are closely monitoring the situation and hoping for a peaceful resolution.

The media liaison officer at the Indian high commission in Suva, A K Sarkaar, says the commission is functioning as normal.

Mr Sarkaar says they are not planning to close down for business as other embassies have done.

He says there are too many visa applications to be processed.