18 Jan 2016

Concerns over use of Russian arms by Fiji

4:19 pm on 18 January 2016

A security analyst says there is concern a Russian shipment of military equipment to Fiji will be used for more than peace keeping abroad.

Last week, containers holding arms, two military trucks and training equipment arrived at Suva Harbour and were taken under heavy security to the Queen Elizabeth Barracks.

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Photo: AFP

The military says the donation from Russia is essential for Fiji's United Nations peacekeeping missions, as many soldiers are using outdated weaponry which makes them poorly equipped.

But Paul Buchanan from 36th Parallel Assessments says there is potential the shipment could have dual usage.

"Dual use refers to the fact that they could well be used by Fijian peacekeepers in hostile environments abroad but they can also be used as forms of crowd control on the local population.

"And if reports are true that tear gas and other non-lethal munitions were part of this shipment, then the opposition has some reason to be concerned that not all of these arms will be directed to the peacekeepers."

Dr Buchanan says the shipment of arms is a follow up to the Memorandum of Understanding signed last February between Russia and Fiji on arms sales and aid.

He says Fiji, under its "Looking North" policy, is diversifying its bilateral ties away from traditional partners - Australia, New Zealand and the United States, and looking towards China, Russia and India.

He says Russia is replacing the void left when sanctions were imposed on Fiji after the 2006 coup.

"It gives Russia not only a diplomatic focal point on the South Pacific but this could well lead to the appearance of Russian naval vessels in Fijian waters doing ports of call in Suva, showing the flag if you will, and allows Russia to project force into the South Pacific after a long period of absence."

The Fiji opposition says the shipment was illegal, because it did not go through parliament for approval.

But Dr Buchanan says parliament does not need to be consulted when it comes to arm shipments.

He says while the monetary amount of the shipment is not known, he estimates its value would be in the low millions.

Russian media reporting Fiji arms deal

Russian media reporting Fiji arms deal Photo: RT