21 Jan 2004

Fiji PM denies crisis over military dissent dispute

7:45 am on 21 January 2004

Fiji's prime minister, Laisenia Qarase, has made a nationally televised address to deny there is any crisis arising from the stand-off between the military and officials of his government.

Mr Qarase says their relationship is set out in the law and the present situation has come about because officials in the home affairs ministry and the army have chosen to express opposing views publicly.

But the prime minister says this must stop.

Mr Qarase says the procedure for appointing a military commander is laid down in the constitution and this process will be followed.

He says there is no need for unnecessary and damaging speculation.

He also says he chaired a national security council meeting yesterday which decided there is no heightened security alert.

Earlier, Mr Qarase said he hoped for an amicable solution to the standoff between the government and the army commander which has led to escalating tension.

Mr Qarase made the comment in a Fijian language interview on Radio Fiji.

He said the issue was very sensitive and it was not proper to discuss the matter openly.

The standoff became public after the media reported a widening rift between officials of the home affairs ministry and the commander, Commodore Frank Bainimarama.

Commodore Bainimarama wants to stay on after the end of his term in March to complete coup and mutiny prosecutions.

But he is opposed by some government officials who have selected a panel from within the home affairs ministry to recommend the appointment of a new commander.

Meanwhile, the estranged wife of a paramount chief and government senator charged with conspiracy in relation to the Novermber 2000 mutiny which was aimed at assassinating Commodore Bainimarama, has gone public on the issue.

Ratu Inoke Takiveikata's wife, Vilisi, says has told the Fiji Sun newspaper that her husband was used as a front by some army officers in an attempt to overthrow Commodore Bainimarama during the mutiny.

She says Commodore Bainimarama should be careful of officers who pretend to be loyal to him but who would have grabbed the commander's post if the mutiny had been successful.

Ratu Inoke has denied being used by the officers but declined to comment further.