5 Nov 2009

NZ expels Fiji's acting High Commissioner

5:48 am on 5 November 2009

The New Zealand Government has moved to expel Fiji's acting High Commissioner to New Zealand, declaring him a persona non grata and saying he must leave.

The move is directly in response to the order issued by Fiji's interim leader Commodore Frank Bainimarama expelling senior New Zealand and Australian diplomats from his country.

Commodore Bainimarama issued the 24-hour expulsion order on Tuesday evening, citing interference with the functioning of Fiji's judiciary as the reason.

At 3pm on Wednesday, Fiji's acting High Commissioner Kuliniasi Seru Savou was declared a persona non grata by New Zealand.

Foreign Affairs Minister Murray McCully says under the Vienna Convention, "reasonable time" must be given to diplomats to leave a country under these circumstances.

Mr McCully has asked Fiji's authorities to honour that, as there is little chance Todd Cleaver, New Zealand's acting Head of Mission, would be able to leave by 7pm on Wednesday night as required. He says New Zealand will do the same.

Mr Cleaver was formally told by authorities in Fiji on Wednesday afternoon that he was persona non grata.

Mr McCully told Checkpoint the New Zealand mission in Fiji has been closed to the public as a result, and may remain shut for several days.

Mr McCully says anyone travelling to Fiji should be aware that consular support is at a minimum and advises people to check the Ministry of Foreign Affairs website for more information.

He says New Zealanders needing consular support should try to make contact by telephone, as there are still staff in the office.

Australia takes same action

Australia has expelled Fiji's top diplomat in Canberra.

Foreign Minister Stephen Smith has announced that Fiji's acting High Commissioner, Kamlesh Kumar Arya, has been ordered to return to Suva.

Earlier, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd said Australia would continue to take a hardline stance against the military regime.

Claims rubbish - top Fiji lawyer

Fiji Law Society president Dorsami Naidu says Commodore Bainimarama's claim that New Zealand and Australia have been harrassing and interfering with the country's judiciary is rubbish.

Mr Naidu says his nation's latest diplomatic dispute with Australia and New Zealand will further delay any reconciliation, and it is his nation that will suffer most as a result of the tit-for-tat developments.

He says another strain on the already strained relationship will further delay the advice and assistance Fiji's people need from other countries.

Commodore's decision 'immature'

A spokesperson for the ousted governing party in Fiji says the decision to send home New Zealand and Australia's top diplomats in Suva is immature and naive.

Peceli Kinivuwai is the general secretary of the SDL party that ruled in Fiji before the 2006 coup.

He is dismissing Commodore Bainimarama's claims that New Zealand and Australia are trying to undermine Fiji's judiciary by imposing travel restrictions on judges.

"He's the one who has actually controlled the judiciary of this country by his actual abrogation of the constitution, his actual removal of the democratically elected government, and his removal of parliament.

"He's the one who is authorising the appointment of the judiciary."

Mr Kinivuwai says it is the people of Fiji who will suffer from the decision to expel the diplomats.

Don't give up on Fiji - Sir Paul Reeves

The Commonwealth's special envoy to Fiji, Sir Paul Reeves, says despite the expulsions New Zealand must remained committed to supporting Fiji's road back to democractic elections.

Sir Paul last travelled to Fiji in September, following the Pacific Island nation's suspension from the Commonwealth after having refused to commit to elections in 2010.