26 Mar 2008

Forum foreign ministers form group to monitor Fiji election plans

9:35 pm on 26 March 2008

A lack of progress on an election timetable for Fiji has prompted foreign ministers at the Pacific Forum meeting in Auckland to form a ministerial contact group.

The group, consisting of the foreign ministers of Australia, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Tonga and Tuvalu, will work more closely with Fiji over plans for an election by next March.

The interim Fiji Foreign Minister Ratu Epeli Nailatikau told the meeting his country is committed to an election but delegates have expressed dissatisfaction with the signs of Fiji's commitment.

His New Zealand counterpart Winston Peters says the monitoring group will now work closely with Fiji over its election plans.

"We will be able to ad judge mouch more closely, in a more timely way, whether they are making the progress they should be making towards an achievable election - fair and open and free - that they have committed themselves to."

The Fiji Government used the meeting to convey that it remains very unhappy with the travel sanctions put in place by New Zealand and Australia and wants those lifted as soon as possible.

But the Australian Foreign Minister Stephen Smith responded bluntly to that suggestion.

They complained about it and we said that we weren't proposing to change them until they showed some substantial progress towards the holding and conducting of a full free and fair election.

Meanwhile, Ratu Epeli Nailatikau told the meeting the interim cabinet will be presented with a timetable early next month which if approved will be submitted to the forum.