19 May 2009

Tonga wants forum leaders to rethink stance on Fiji

5:27 pm on 19 May 2009

Tongan Prime Minister Feleti Sevele has called for Pacific leaders to take a step back and reconsider their stance on Fiji.

Dr Sevele made the comments after meeting with New Zealand counterpart John Key in Wellington on Tuesday.

Fiji was suspended from the Pacific Islands Forum at the start of May for not setting a credible timetable for elections.

Dr Sevele said he had recently talked with Fiji's interim leader Frank Bainimarama.

He told reporters what is happening in Fiji is the opposite of what leaders hoped would result from that decision and a change of approach may be needed.

Dr Sevele warned against ostracising Fiji, saying it was important to engage with the country to find a way forward.

When asked if waiting until 2014 to hold elections was acceptable to Tonga, Dr Sevele said it was up to the people of Fiji.

However, Mr Key reiterated that date is unacceptable to New Zealand, but said the door is always open if Fiji wants to engage.

Mr Key said a decision to restore Fiji to democracy remained in the hands of Commodore Bainimarama.

"If he wants to take that step and legitimately engage with us, I think all Pacific Forum leaders would stand there to assist him. We don't want to leave him out in the cold, but nor do we want to sanction an illegitimate regime."

Mr Key said New Zealand has been softening its travel ban to Fiji in relation to sport teams, but would maintain its action against members of the interim regime or their families.

He said New Zealand's stand on Fiji would remain firm at the forum, to be held in Australia in August.