The Guardian June 7, 2000


Fiji: opposition to coup grows

Fiji's crisis is in its third week and the effects are being felt right 
across the region. On Monday, June 5 reports from the Solomon Islands 
indicated a coup attempt by the Malaita Eagle Force. Key government 
buildings were under siege with mobs roaming the streets.

In Fiji not only has the democratically elected government been overthrown 
but the fabric of civil society is disintegrating into mob rule as the 
crisis drags on. In a classic example of appeasement the Australian 
Government has so far, delayed implementation of the measures which were 
announced more than a week ago.

Meanwhile acts of orchestrated violence against innocent communities and 
families in rural areas have taken place.

A press release from Fiji's People's Coalition, Fiji Labour Party dated 
June 3 reports on the pattern of violence saying that "They involve groups 
of 8 to 10 masked men, armed with iron bars, semi-automatic rifles, knives 
and rocks. Some of whom remain on guard outside, while the others smash 
their way into a house, loot, destroy and physically assault the terrified 
family members. In many cases, the young daughters of a family are 
threatened with rape if they do not get what they want. Temples and holy 
shrines have also been deliberately targeted". 

The press release states that the "raids are methodical and planned to 
target Indo-Fijian families living in isolated settlements. In some 
instances, the houses are burned down altogether".

The first incidents took place right after Prime Minister Chaudhry and his 
government were taken hostage and have continued since then. The 
perpetrators are young men from villages with close kinship ties with 
George Speight.

Military, police complicity

The military government claimed to be acting to restore law and order but 
clearly sympathises with Speight and his gang. There are also reports of 
police complicity with police officers actively involved in transporting 
slaughtered cattle and livestock, root crops and other stolen food directly 
to the parliamentary complex to feed Speight's men.

Courts are also virtually condoning the lawlessness and criminality by 
imposing $20 dollar fines for stealing and looting.

Trade unions

Fijian trade unions are angry at the continuing hijacking of the 
democratically elected government.

The Fiji Trades Union Congress declared: "Like all other democratic bodies 
in the country, [we] cannot give any recognition to the unlawful and 
illegal interim military government". The TU Congress will "exert all the 
pressure it can to restore the 1997 Constitution and the democratically 
elected government. Its resolve to achieve both these goals is absolute".

The Fijian trade unions are vowing to bring Fiji to a halt to put pressure 
on the authorities and the military to rethink their actions.

Mr Anthony, the Congress's national secretary, condemned the Australia Fiji 
Business Council as "selfish" after it called on Australian trade unions to 
lift bans imposed on postal, airline and shipping services to Fiji.

The Council's president, Mr Ross Porter claimed that the bans would only 
hurt innocent Fijians. In reply, Mr Anthony pointed out that "they are 
looking at their business and how they [could] continue to make their own 
money. We have bigger things at stake here like democracy, the rule of law 
and the restoration of a democratically elected government." 

International union solidarity

The Commonwealth Trade Union Council plans to circulate a Fiji crisis 
submission to members of the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group. John 
Monks, the British TUC General Secretary, wrote to the British Foreign 
Minister, Robyn Cook urging the Commonwealth to ensure that the 
Commonwealth continues to recognise the Labour-led People's Coalition 
Government of Fiji and that the 1997 Constitution is upheld.

"In the event of failure by the current military regime to restore 
democracy and the rule of law, we would call upon the Commonwealth to take 
immediate actions to expel Fiji and sever all diplomatic, trade, sports and 
military links with any illegitimate government in Fiji", said the letter.

The Executive Committee of the 20-million-strong International Federation 
of Chemical, Energy, Mine and General Workers' Unions (ICEM) have condemned 
the violence and illegality of the attempt to overthrow the democratically 
elected government of Fiji. The ICEM pledged to "mobilise a campaign of 
international actions" to support the call for the release of the hostages 
and a return to democracy.

The ILO Workers Group has also declared its support for the request from 
the Fiji Trade Union Congress for solidarity support and action by unions 
in the region and internationally. The group "welcomed the boycott action 
already being undertaken by Australian workers and other trade union 
organisations in the region."

Despite the growing international trade union support for restoration of 
democracy in Fiji, the main burden of the struggle is resting with the 
people of Fiji themselves.

Canefarmers boycott crop

The two largest Fijian cane farmers' unions have come together to jointly 
protest the hostage situation. More than 2,500 canefarmers are refusing to 
take in the harvest until the Chaudhry government is restored. Mr Peni an 
indigenous Fijian canefarmer said he was prepared to join a boycott of the 
sugar cane harvest, depriving the country of important export income. 
"Chaudhry is a very capable person. He used to talk on behalf of us. He 
represented the Fijians as workers. He was very concerned about poor 
people," said Mr Peni. 

Split?

A serious development is a move to split Fiji into eastern and western 
states. One of the chiefs of the western region with its main city of Nadi, 
has put forward such a proposal following talks with the US Ambassador to 
Fiji. A spokesman for the region said that the US ambassador "expected" 
that the US would provide "financial, technical and military advice."

A weekend meeting in the west which attracted about 600 people called for 
the separation of the west, the richest part of the country.

However, the Fijian ay Times appealed to the Great Council of Chiefs to 
take decisive action to resolve the impasse as splits among the Fijian 
community opened wider. "And still the chiefs [do not] move to arrest the 
situation," said the newspaper. "The country cannot afford to become a 
Pacific version of Kosovo or Rwanda."

Both the military coup of 1987 led by Sitiveni Rabuka and the present coup 
of George Speight have been directed against Labour governments which were 
implementing progressive policies. In one instance the Prime Minister, Dr 
Bavandra, was an indigenous Fijian while Mahendra Chaudhry is of Indian 
descent. It is clear from this that the two coups have class interests 
behind them and that nationality issues are merely an excuse by which the 
coup leaders are attempting to win popular support.

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