27 Jan 2009

Pacific leaders gather for Fiji meeting

7:07 am on 27 January 2009

Pacific leaders meet this week to consider a report on elections in Fiji, and decide the future of Fiji within the Pacific Islands Forum.

The report, by a group of foreign ministers, which expresses serious concerns about the lack of progress towards holding elections in Fiji by March. It recommends a range of actions, including suspension from the forum.

Prime Minister John Key, who is flying to Papua New Guinea for Tuesday's meeting, said it is disappointing that Fiji's interim Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama will not be there.

Mr Key said it has been two years since the coup in Fiji and there are few signs from Mr Bainimarama that wants to move the country back to democracy.

He said leaders will have a range of actions to consider, including suspension from the forum.

Mr Key said the suspension could be from ministerial contact groups or high-level forum meetings, or it could be far more draconian.

Meeting almost derailed

The meeting in Port Moresby was almost derailed last week by a decision by Papua New Guinea and Fiji to defer it for a week, without the agreement of the other leaders.

PNG prime minister Sir Michael Somare announced that the meeting would be delayed until 10 February so Fiji's interim prime minister Frank Bainimarama could attend.

Mr Bainarama had said he was needed at home to lead relief work after the recent devastating floods in Fiji.

However, late on Saturday, the meeting was put back to its original date after forum chair Niue overruled Port Moresby's decision to postpone it.

Fiji minister suspended

One of the two people originally chosen to represent Fiji in the absence of the interim Prime Minister has been suspended from his position.

Fiji's interim foreign affairs secretary Ratu Isoa Gavidi was suspended after possibly breaching the civil service code of conduct by commenting on a political matter.

He told FijiTV that he wished the Commodore could go to the Pacific Islands Forum Special Meeting, but that the Commodore had made his decision not to.

Fiji's interim Attorney General, Aiyaz Sayed Khayum, is due to fly to Papua New Guinea on Monday.

Fiji's former Human Rights Commissioner Shamima Ali said the country is feeling more and more isolated and many Fijians want the Commodore to attend the meeting.

She said if Fiji is suspended from the Pacific Islands Forum it may be more difficult for the country to return to democracy.