28 Nov 2006

Fiji PM to arrive in New Zealand for talks with Commodore Bainimarama

5:11 pm on 28 November 2006

Fiji's Prime Minister Laisena Qarase is flying to New Zealand today for talks with the country's military commander, amid claims that a coup is imminent.

The military commander, Commodore Frank Bainimarama, has been on a private visit to New Zealand, and has agreed to remain in the country for the talks.

In a statement, Mr Qarase has said he is ready to meet directly with the Commodore and to do so with an open mind but Mr Qarase says he won't consider a military push for him to resign.

The latest moves follow negotiations in New Zealand, with the Foreign minister Winston Peters holding several meetings with Commodore Bainimarama.

Mr Qarase say he hopes tomorrow's meeting in Wellington will allay fears of a military coup.

"Well I'm hoping that the outcome will firstly defuse the situation and calm people because there is a lot of anxiety here, a bit of fear. so this development today is very positive and sending out a very good signal."

Meanwhile, the Australian Defence Force has reportedly cancelled all leave for special forces troops as it sets plans in motion for the evacuation of 700 Australian nationals in the event of a coup in Fiji.

This comes as the first Australians to flee Fiji - wives and children of federal police liaison officers - left the country yesterday.

A report on the Brisbane Courier-Mail said three Australian warships to the southwest Pacific carrying more than 100 soldiers while a Sydney-based commando task group has been placed on stand-by to fly in to Fiji if a coup is launched and Australians put at risk.

The report came as Australia's foreign minister Alexander Downer said he did not believe the international community would be able to stop Fiji's military chief, Commodore Bainimarama, from conducting a coup.

Fiji's military says the police commissioner, Andrew Hughes, is aggravating the situation in the country by continually speaking out.

The Land Forces commander, Colonel Pita Driti, says it would be better if Mr Hughes, who has said threats were made against him by elements in the military, kept quiet.

Mr Hughes has sent his family to Australia and is moving between locations because of what he said were pointed threats made yesterday by those within the coup planning area of the military.

There were also reportedly threats made against New Zealand and some staff from the High Commission have been moved from Suva as a result.

Colonel Driti says he doesn't know about that.

We don't have any information on that. I think there's a lot of speculation and paranoia, so to speak, and my advice is for everyone to keep calm. Why should they be making a song and dance out of a storm in a teacup?

Colonel Pita Driti.