24 Jan 2003

Fiji opposition claims racial discrimination in delivery of cyclone aid

8:20 am on 24 January 2003

Fiji's opposition leader, Mick Beddoes, has accused the government's Disaster Management Centre, DISMAC, of racial discrimination in the distribution of relief supplies to cyclone victims in the country's north.

Mr Beddoes says areas with a predominantly Indian population were being by-passed by the government's food distribution teams.

Mr Beddoes has urged the prime minister, Laisenia Qarase, to step in and remove the responsiblity for food distribution from DISMAC and hand it over to the Red Cross.

He says the government should concentrate on rebuilding schools and homes, cleaning up and restoring water, electricity and phone lines.

The Fiji Sun newspaper says the opposition leader's criticism came after he visited cyclone ravaged areas in Labasa yesterday.

But the deputy controller of national disasters, Savenaca Kaunisela, has rejected the criticisms, saying there is no question of ethnicity in DISMAC operations.

He says they are doing their best to assist everyone affected by the cyclone, not just one group.

A front-page newspaper report had earlier quoted Mr Kaunisela as saying the distribution of food would be according to ethnicity and need.