20 Jul 2011

Mara denies torture allegations

7:22 pm on 20 July 2011

Former Fiji army commander, Lieutenant Colonel Ratu Tevita Mara, says accusations of torture against him are false and mischievious.

Colonel Mara is in New Zealand to meet with the Fiji community and officials from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFat) to discuss the level of human rights abuse, which he says is deteriorating every day in Fiji.

The Auckland-based Coalition for Democracy in Fiji wants him investigated by New Zealand police for his alleged role in torture at the Suva military barracks. It has filed a criminal complaint with police here.

Colonel Mara says close to 50 soldiers directly under the country's military ruler, Commodore Frank Bainimarama, have been involved in torture, but neither he nor soldiers under his command ever took part.

However, he says he is prepared if New Zealand police want to question him about torture allegations.

Colonel Mara says he's surprised by the coalition's move given the positive correspondence he's had with its president, Nik Naidu.

He says in internet correspondence before he came to New Zealand, Mr Naidu told him he would like to see all people and organisations with a positive interest in Fiji working together to find acceptable solutions for its future.

Military 'repressed, and split'

At a media briefing in Auckland on Wednesday morning, Colonel Mara said soldiers are as repressed as the civilian population and there is a definite split within the military, with just 50 people who still support the regime.

Colonel Mara, who has been highly critical of the Fiji government since he fled to Tonga earlier this year, says he would go back to Fiji if he could, but believes he would be detained and tortured.

Meet with Mara

People unhappy with Colonel Mara being allowed into New Zealand are being encouraged to meet him at a public gathering in Auckland on Saturday.

The group behind his visit, the Fiji Freedom and Democracy Movement, acknowledges some people are opposed to him being here.

But its president Josaia Rasiga says those against the visit can put their concerns to Colonel Mara directly.

Mr Rasiga, a former Fiji police officer who is now a refugee in New Zealand, says it is important Colonel Mara visit.