11 Dec 2006

Laisenia Qarase faces arrest if he returns to Suva - says military

12:42 pm on 11 December 2006

Fiji's deposed prime minister, Laisenia Qarase, will be facing arrest if he returns to the capital from his home village in the Lau Group.

The military's Land Force Commander, Colonel Pita Driti, says that the army will not accept his presence in Suva.

Mr Qarase says he will return to the capital in the next few days, and has been in constant contact with his minister and other key people and has been assessing the situation and the opportunities to restore democracy.

Philippa Tolley reports from Fiji.

"There are no details about exactly when Mr Qarase will return to Suva. But from his home village in the Lau group of islands, he says he fully expects to be taken in and questioned by the military when he arrives. But he says he wants further discussions with the military commander, Commodore Frank Bainimarama, and the Great Council of Chiefs"

Meanwhile as Fiji operates under a state of emergency, the courts will carry on their usual business this morning. A verdict could be delivered in the trail of the former Prime Minister and coup leader, Sitiveni Rabuka. He is facing two charges of inciting a mutinous act in 2000.

Meanwhile, the military says it is ready for any sort of uprising if Mr Qarase returns to the capital.

Colonel Driti has warned that the army will be ready for any sort of confrontation with the former prime minister's supporters.

He says there is a possibility that the military could remove Mr Qarase from his home village and take him straight to Nukulau Island, which is where the May 2000 coup front man, George Speight, is locked up.

Mr Qarase has since denied making the comments which were reported in great detail in the Australian media, saying he had refused an interview.

The military has also warned that those making inciting statements against its coup will be dealt with.

Already those taken in for questioning at the military camp include the former director of the ruling SDL party, Jale Baba; the party president, Ratu Kalokalo Loki and a failed SDL election candidate, Imraz Iqbal.

Also taken in were a deposed junior minister, Ted Young, and the former Labour Minister, Kenneth Zinck.

SDL sources say the military summoned the party president, Jale Baba, after reports that he was behind moves to create civil unrest.

Meanwhile, the Fiji Times reports that the heads of some NGOs opposing military rule, including Virisila Buadromo and Angie Heffernan, are reported to have received threatening telephone calls.

The military is also carrying out a manhunt for the chief executive of the finance ministry, Paula Uluinaceva, who placed a spending limit of 12-thousand U.S. dollars a day on government departments, including the military, and then went into hiding.

A peace shrine set up in Fiji at a residence just outside Suva was attacked overnight.

The roadside fence had been hung with posters saying "Yes to democracy, no to war." and "No to a culture of coups, poverty and injustice".

At midnight a group of men armed with cane knives and crow bars tore down the posters and broke several windows.

The owner of the resident, businesswoman, Laisa Digitaki, says the military was behind the attack and she plans to replace the banners.

But, the army says it was not behind the incident.

Meanwhile, a meeting will be held at the army camp today to decide on the shape of the new interim administration.

The Fijilive news website quotes Dr Jona Senilagakali as saying the military has ordered him to report to the barracks today for a meeting.

Dr Senilagakali says the decision on the size and shape of the cabinet will be made by the commander, Commodore Frank Bainimarama, and the military governing council.

It is believed Commodore Bainimarama wants to reduce the size of the cabinet from the previous 24 ministers and another 12 junior ministers to about 16 and still meet the multi-party requirements of the constitution.

Dr Senilagakali says details of the changes will become clear in the next few days.

The military advertised for applicants to fill the cabinet positions at the weekend.

The military also says that from now on the role of the police commissioner will now go to a Fijian.

Military spokesman, Major Neumi Leweni, told Fiji TV said they had had no difficulties finding a replacement for the former police commissioner, Andrew Hughes, who was sacked from the position last week.

Just an indication of the appointment of the current commissioner, Jimi Koroi. Even though he is in a wheelchair, he is very sharp and he is someone who is well versed with police work so there are quite capable people here in Fiji.

Meanwhile, reaction to the military coup in Fiji has been mixed with both support and opposition in strong measure.

The deposed government and its supporters, NGOs, the Law Society and many others have been vocal in their denunciation of the coup.

But, the chairman of the Kadavu Provincial Council, Ratu Josateki Nawalowalo, says the military should arrest and question people who do not follow his advice to accept what has happened and move on.

A coup convict now living in Australia, Maciu Navakasuasua, says churches should not criticize the military for removing the Qarase government when they supported the May 2000 coup against Chaudhry government, even when it was held hostage for 56 days.

The Vanua Levu Landowners association says people should support the military's clean-up campaign and its fight against corrupt practices.

It says all the people involved in corruption should be sent to jail for the sake of future generations.

And, the Justice and Freedom Party says people should stop making public statements to destabilise the country.

It says there is a lot of merit in the military's actions and people should heed its advice because the national interest overrides every other issue.