28 Jan 2005

Fiji Lands minister denies mutiny involvement

7:53 am on 28 January 2005

Fiji's lands minister, Ratu Naiqama Lalabalavu, has denied supporting the Labasa army mutiny and the seizure of the Labasa police station by rebels during the Speight coup.

The Fiji Times reports that Lalabalavu's denial followed a question from the state prosecutor on whether he had taken his chiefly authority to the army camp because he could influence the rebel soldiers.

On his earlier statement that chiefs had a role to play, Lalabalavu said a chief was the last ray of hope for bringing peace and stability to Labasa.

Lalabalavu said the rebel soldiers had a reason for what they did, and it was only wise at the time to be calm as people were armed.

The lands minister said he only heard of damage to properties after hearing gunfire from his home in Labasa.

Lalabalavu agreed with the prosecution that what the rebels did that day was wrong.

But he denied that his purpose in going to the rebel held barracks was to support the coup in Suva.

Lalabalavu also denied telling a meeting that if Fiji's western division could form its own government, then he saw no reason why the three provinces in

Vanua Levu could not do the same.