12 Jun 2011

New Zealand close to decision on Mara visa

5:30 am on 12 June 2011

The New Zealand Government says it expects to make a decision on Sunday or Monday whether or not a former Fiji military officer, Lieutenant Colonel Tevita Mara should be allowed into New Zealand.

Fiji's military government has accused New Zealand, Australia and Tonga of being underhanded and not following the rules over Colonel Mara - a co-conspirator of the 2006 military coup in Fiji - WHO fled to Tonga in May after being charged with sedition.

Authorities in Suva say they followed the legal process to try to extradite him but that, despite the request, he was issued with a Tongan passport and then a visa to enter Australia, where he is attending a conference of Fiji pro-democracy advocates.

Fiji believes New Zealand is willing to give him a visa too.

The permanent secretary for information in Fiji, Sharon Smith Johns, says this is not helping her country, which is focused on holding elections in September 2014.

"The more interference that we have," Ms Johns says, "of course the harder it is for us to get there. We'd hope that countries would partner and help us to get there, but if not, we'll still get there by ourselves. The distraction from Mara is something that we don't need."

Tonga defends sending its naval vessels into Fijian waters

Tonga and Fiji also exchanged words on Saturday after Fiji objected to the presence of Tongan naval vessels in its waters on Friday.

Fiji said Tonga was being manipulated to "up the ante" by sending naval boats within Fiji's Minerva Reef.

Tonga admits its boats were in Fijian waters but says it was not trying to challenge the Fijian regime.

Press secretary for the Tongan government Ahongalu Fusimalohi says the Fijians knocked down a beacon some months ago and the only reason Tonga's navy went back was to restore it.