20 Feb 2003

Fiji cabinet minister defends treason accused

7:38 am on 20 February 2003

A senior Fiji cabinet minister has appeared as a defence witness in the treason trial of coup accomplices, Josefa Nata and Timoci Silatolu.

The minister for lands, Ratu Naiqama Lalabalavu, who is from the pro-coup Conservative Alliance Matanitu Vanua party told the Suva High Court of discussions held after the coup to resolve the crisis.

But evidence given by Ratu Naiqama and other defence witnesses confirmed that Nata and Silatolu were part of speight's negotiating team.

Ratu Naiqama said a week after the coup he and chiefly members of his clan, including Ratu Epeli Qanilau and Ratu Inoke Kubuabola, had met to discuss the happenings in parliament and Nata was called and given a proposal to be given to Speight.

Earlier, the chairman of the Great Council of Chiefs subcommittee which negotiated with Speight, Ratu Epeli Kanaimawi, also appeared for Nata.

Ratu Epeli said Speight and his group had wanted the then president, Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara, removed but his subcommittee had spoken out against this to which only Nata appeared receptive.

Another defence witness and recently released coup convict, Maciu Navakasusua, said Nata was not present at any of the planning meetings held by Speight on three consecutive days before the coup at fellow convict Iliesa Duvuloco's central Suva home.

The defence will call its last witness today.