FIJI MILITARY ACTION CONSIDERED BY NEW ZEALAND IN 1987

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By Michael Field

AUCKLAND, New Zealand (October 5, 1998 - Agence France-Presse)---New Zealand nearly put its military into action soon after the first 1987 Fiji coup, fearing Fiji forces could seize the New Zealand High Commission, New Zealand Defense Quarterly says in its latest issue.

The magazine, published by the Ministry of Defense, says the proposal put up by then Prime Minister David Lange produced a deep split between politicians and the military in New Zealand.

The magazine published the 27 word letter Lange wrote ordering the elite Special Air Service (SAS) onto standby.

Some of the detail published by the Quarterly has been revealed previously by Lange but this is the first time the depth of the New Zealand military opposition has been revealed.

Several days after the coup a Fiji national, Ahmed Ali, hijacked an Air New Zealand plane at Nadi airport, sparking New Zealand's initial military preparations.

The hijack was ended when a cabin crew member hit Ali over the head with a bottle of whiskey.

However, the article says New Zealand still wanted to send in troops and quoted the then Prime Minister's Office Director, John Henderson, as saying New Zealand's diplomatic staff needed protection in case Fiji "military forces stormed the New Zealand High Commission searching for sympathizers of the deposed government."

What is revealed is a bizarre sequence which saw the Director of External and Domestic Security, Gerald Hensley, secretly flown to Fiji aboard another Air New Zealand flight, leaving the administration in New Zealand in turmoil and the lines of command and control down.

Lange wanted the military to fly to Fiji; the military did not know what was going on.

The SAS's "Black" group were put on standby with 60 men ready in four hours.

The Commander of Army Land Forces, Brigadier Michael Dudman, found this disturbing and asked Lange's office for a proper meeting of the key authorities and written orders.

It was then that Lange wrote to the then Chief of Defense Staff, Air Marshal David Crooks, saying simply: "I hereby instruct you to dispatch immediately an RNZAF C130 aircraft with sufficient military personnel aboard to act as required to protect New Zealand's interests in Fiji."

Defense Quarterly then quotes a diary kept by Crooks written after a meeting with Lange.

"There was talk about how to get troops from Nadi to Suva, and it became disturbingly clear that there was an intention to proceed with the mission even though the original reason, to assist in resolving the hijacking incident, was no longer the primary objective," Crooks was quoted as saying:

"I asked if those present were seriously proposing to inject a body of armed men into Fiji without the concurrence of the Fiji military authorities and attempt some sort of mission to Suva." The startling response from one senior official was, "Why not?"

"I did not like it. It was dangerous, and I pointed to the legal implications for our people acting on someone else's sovereign territory. I asked for a statement of the task and that the instruction to proceed be provided in writing."

Dudman told Defense Quarterly he felt relief at learning they would finally not go to Fiji. "It was sheer lunacy to deploy such a group without the approval of the Fijian authorities and a clear set of tasks within its capability."

He said going into Fiji would have been a breach of that country's sovereignty and he was worried the SAS might be jailed in Fiji, or worse, fired at as they disembarked from the Hercules.

Dudman said the handling of the affair showed a total breakdown of trust between the government and its military commanders.

Michael J Field Agence France-Presse Auckland, New Zealand TEL: (64 21) 688-438 FAX: (64 21) 694-035 E-Mail: afp.nz@clear.net.nz WWW: http://www.afp.com/english/

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