15 May 2007

Reports of Fiji's military still rounding people up to take them to camp

1:51 pm on 15 May 2007

There are reports that Fiji's military is still rounding people up and taking them to the camp for questioning and, in one case, a beating.

This is despite the interim regime saying earlier this year that this had stopped after a public outcry following the deaths of two people who had been in military detention.

A Fijian businessman, Ulai Taoi, who's the general manager of Utech Systems in Suva, says he was taken up to the barracks over suspicion of involvement in an anti-military website.

While there, he says he was taken out by soldiers and beaten.

"This was at night when I was called out from my cell. They roughed me and there was kicking and punching, and that sort of thing. I guess it was part of maybe a turning down process. I do not know but yes, they did beat me, yes. 13"

Mr Taoi says he felt he had to speak out so people would know what was going on.

I forgave them for what happened but I thought that it was important for the people in Fiji, and the world, to know what happened to me. It seems a lot of people who have been detained have not spoken out and I thought that perhaps by speaking out, it would enable people who are in control, that maybe measures can be taken to limit these sort of things.

But, who is in control?

The beating may have been by low ranking soldiers but afterwards the Land Forces commander, Colonel Pita Driti, came to Mr Tahoi's cell for an exchange of views so the leadership knows what's going on and isn't doing anything to stop it.

Colonel Driti and the military spokesman were unavailable to answer questions on whether military comanders are ordering the beatings and intimidation.

Also taken up to the camp last week was Losena Salabula, a member of the former ruling SDL party.

She was not beaten but the commanding officer of the Fiji Infantry Regiment delivered a stern message to her.

He told me that I have to tell the deposed prime minister not to say too many things while he is there in his village otherwise, if they're going to continue talking too much, they will take us all and throw us in Naboro prison, one of the prisons in Suva.

But, the deposed prime minister, Laisenia Qarase, is refusing to shut up.

Mr Qarase, who's confined to his home village in the Lau group under the current state of emergency, says freedom of expression is guaranteed under the constitution and he will continue saying what needs to be said.

I have been speaking the truth, and nothing is better than the truth so I have no intention of shutting up because I have my freedom and I think I have a duty to perform, by expressing my views.

Mr Qarase wants international pressure to continue to be exerted on the interim regime over what the military is doing.

I am extremely disappointed. We had been assured by the interim attorney general, quite some weeks back, that there will be no more rounding up of people by the military and taken up to the camp. That obviously has not happened and they continue to round people up and take them to the camp.

The interim attorney-general, Aiyuz Sayed Khaiyum, did not return calls about whether the regime has concerns over the military activity.

But, in March, the interim prime minister, Commodore Frank Bainimarama, said the military wouldn't condone the use of force and was responsive to public views on the abuse of human rights.

The trip to the barracks, however, left a lasting impression on Mrs Salabula.

Being a woman and taken up to the camp, and especially as a member of the deposed government, you would understand how I felt that day, very intimidated. I was there with two huge men and I know very well that they have the guns with them.

The threats by the military appear to be at odds with the agreement signed by members of the interim regime and the European Union.

There were commitments made to lift the state of emergency, uphold human rights and hold general elections within 2 years.

The EU has warned Fiji that if there is no progress, hundreds of millions of dollars of EU funding is at risk.

This does not appear to concern the military, as Mrs Salabula explains.

First, I was told that our party, the SDL, will never return to power and also, the 350 million from the European Union is nothing to them. All that they need to do is do the cleanup and what is done is done.

Whether this attitude shows a split between the military and members of the interim regime is not known but Mr Qarase says the beating and intimidation reveal what's really happening in Fiji.

It is an indication that the interim government, backed by the military, cannot be trusted. They cannot hold on to a promise and I think they have already made that promise to the European Union, and to Fiji, and to the international community. so I hope that pressure will keep on being applied by the international community.

There are other reports of military intimidation but some people are refusing to comment for fear of being dragged up to the camp again.

In the earlier statement, Commodore Bainimara had said all cases of human rights abuses would be investigated by the police on an independent basis.

But, Mr Taoi won't take the matter to the police.

For me, I don't really hold grudges against people. I mean, in this particular case, the military, because I think they're following orders, I think they've got objectives like any other institutions whether they be wrong or right They're probably are just doing their job for the sake of doing a job. Even pursuing that in court, I have forgiven these guys.

Mrs Salabula says there's no point reporting the incident to the police because they are in collusion with the military.