28 Feb 2007

Fiji interim prime minister attacks comments by Australian foreign minister

9:53 am on 28 February 2007

Fiji's military commander and interim prime minister, Commodore Bainimarama, has made a scathing attack on the Australian foreign minister, Alexander Downer, and described his recent comments on Fiji as the height of insensitivity and arrogance.

Mr Downer was widely reported to have said he hoped Pacific island countries would put collective pressure on Fiji to hold early general elections.

He also said Commodore Bainimarama was enjoying the fruits of power and did not appear to want to give it up any time soon.

In a broadcast yesterday Commodore Bainimarama said he had already told Mr Downer last year that he had no business interfering with Fiji and that he lacked an understanding of Fiji because he was receiving wrong information from his staff in Suva.

Commodore Bainimarama said he wanted to tell Mr Downer that he was a member of parliament in Australia and as such he had no authority to tell Fiji how it should run its affairs.

Commodore Bainimarama said Australia certainly gives Fiji some development assistance but in return Australia benefits many times more from Fiji.

Commodore Bainimarama said Mr Downer is trying to put undue pressure on Pacific Island countries to influence their position on Fiji and in the process he is inflicting significant damage to the spirit of co-operation, dialogue and goodwill embedded in the region.

He says Mr Downer is also undermining the spirit and existence of the Pacific Islands Forum by trying to pre-empt the position of sovereign island nations.

He says Mr Downer should reassess the manner in which he reacts and engages on Pacific island issues.

Commodore Bainimarama says Mr Downer just has to pick up any newspaper in Fiji, Solomon Islands or Papua New Guinea to find out the extreme dislike people have for his attitude and arrogance.

Commodore Bainimarama says it is evident that Mr Downer and Australia are using the Eminent Person Group process to establish a relationship of power towards Fiji.

He says in such a situation the aspirations of the people of Fiji are subordinate to the wishes and expectations of Australia.

Commodore Bainimarama says he and the interim administration will never allow this to happen.

He says the interim administration has already set the timeline for general elections by 2010 and will remain focused on that.