5 Jan 2006

Fiji commissions judge advocate for coup courts martial

9:18 am on 5 January 2006

Fiji's home affairs minister has finally recommended the commissioning of Fiji Law Society president Graham Leung as judge advocate for the retrial of 20 soldiers charged with coup-related offences.

The High Court overturned their earlier convictions six months ago on a legal technicality and ordered that they be court martialled again.

But two attempts to convene the court martial were aborted and 10 of the soldiers were released on bail when the government did not recommend Mr Leung's commissioning to the President's Office.

This led to a bitter stand off with the military during which the commander, Commodore Bainimarama described the government as incompetent and called on it to resign.

This prompted the chief executive of the prime minister's office, Jioji Kotobalavu, to warn the commander he was not an elected representative.

"As a fellow public officer, my advice to him is to reflect very carefully about what he has been saying, and his own role as a public officer. In a democracy, the role of a public officer is to support the elected government of the day, the elected government that has the mandate of the people."

The home affairs minister, Josefa Vosanibola, now says he has sent his recommendation to the President, which will enable Mr Leung to take up a short service commission in the military with the rank of Major or temporary Lieutenant Colonel.

Mr Vosanibola claimed he was waiting for more information which the military provided this week.

But the military has denied providing any new information to the minister and has questioned the government's agenda in causing the long delay.