17 Oct 2007

Fiji military boss tells Forum democracy will be restored by March 2009

5:27 pm on 17 October 2007

The Fiji interim prime minister, Commodore Frank Bainimarama has committed that Fiji will have elections by March 2009.

Speaking to Pacific Forum Islands leaders in Tonga, the coup leader said that the Fiji military would abide by the decision made by the voters.

The new Forum chair, Tonga's Dr Feleti Sevele, says there is seven-point consensus to ensure the Fiji regime will keep its word.

"The leaders endorse the findings of the Eminent Persons' Group report following its mission to Fiji from 29th January to 1st of February 2007 and the outcomes of the Forum foreign ministers' meeting in March in Vanuatu as an appropriate way forward to the restoration of constitutional democratic government in Fiji."

Dr Sevele, who also leads an unelected government, also says the Forum leaders have commended the work of the joint Fiji/Forum group set up after last year's military coup.

He says Forum foreign ministers will meet in January to review the progress.

New Zealand and Australia have committed more funds to help fisheries in the Pacific as regional leaders are in Tonga.

New Zealand is to provide nearly four million US dollars to a five year programme to track tuna in the Pacific.

The New Zealand prime minister Helen Clark says if the Pacific fishery is to achieve its economic potential it needs to be managed on a sustainable basis.

The Australian foreign minister Alexander Downer says his government will provide funding to help strengthen the Pacific tuna fishery to ensure it does not collapse.

Canberra will immediately provide 400,000 US dollars to improve monitoring and surveillance.

Earlier today, Pacific leaders went to their retreat in Vava'u as they conclude the formal part of the annual summit in Tonga.

They flew from Nuku'alofa where the opening was held yesterday on board an Australian military aircraft after a commercial flight was cancelled.

The Australian foreign minister, Alexander Downer, says he allowed the Fiji coup leader, Commodore Frank Bainimarama, to join the flight because not to do so would be petty in the extreme and reflect very badly on Australia.