AUSTRALIA FACES EMBARRASSMENT IN FIJI OVER RABUKA BIOGRAPHY

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By Michael Field

AUCKLAND, New Zealand (March 21, 2000 – Agence France-Presse)---Plans to have an Australian diplomatic mission head launch a controversial book by Fiji coup leader Sitiveni Rabuka have been cancelled, a publisher's spokesman confirmed Tuesday.

In the book Rabuka, who says he hopes Indians will leave Fiji, revealed he had briefed the current Fiji President, Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara, four days before the first 1987 coup of what he was about to do.

Although Mara has strongly denied this, in an interview Tuesday he admitted, for the first time publicly, that he did play golf with Rabuka four days before the coup.

The authorized biography, Rabuka of Fiji, by Central Queensland University (CQU) academic John Sharpham, was to have been launched by Australian High Commissioner to Fiji, Susan Boyd, next Monday at the CQU's campus in Fiji, which was allowed to open in the country under Rabuka's leadership.

Susan Boyd, the Australian High Commissioner in Suva, confirmed she had been asked to launch the book.

"They had originally asked me but they are now looking at whether the launch will go ahead at all," she said.

A university spokesman in Australia, Mark Barnbaum, confirmed this.

"The launch has been cancelled," he said, saying he could make no further comment.

Rabuka lost the prime ministership last year in general elections to Labour Party leader Mahendra Chaudhry.

Mara has been president of Fiji since 1993. He served as prime minister from independence in 1970 to 1987 when his Alliance Party lost in a general election in April to a Timoci Bavadra's led Labour Coalition party. On May 14, 1987, Rabuka, then number three in the Fiji military, walked into Parliament and overthrew the government.

In an earlier book he said he acted alone but in Sharpham's book he said that on May 10 he met Mara at a golf game.

Over lunch later he said he told Mara that the options were to overthrow the government in a military coup or stage an uprising.

Rabuka said he told Mara of fears that the U.S. or Britain might intervene if the army took over in Fiji.

Rabaku said Mara then replied: "Leave those to me."

Last week Mara sought a court injunction to stop the publication and sale of the book and he claimed unspecified damages for libel.

Mara in an interview with the Hawai‘i web based Pacific Islands Report (http://pidp.ewc.hawaii.edu/pireport/) to be published Wednesday admitted he and other persons played golf with Rabuka four days before the coup.

But there were no discussions between him and Rabuka regarding a coup.

"I'm very surprised that this has been raised at this stage and (Rabuka) raised it in such a way that completely overturns what he stated after the coup," Mara said.

"He had been training soldiers for three weeks before the coup," he said.

"Fiji didn't know anything about coups. We thought coups meant soldiers coming out and shooting people, and we didn't like that. He was the only one who knew about coups because he spent some time in Puna in India, and I believe he got a degree in coups."

Rabuka, who is here promoting the book, could not be contacted Tuesday night.

Meanwhile Chaudhry told Pacific Islands Report he could not take Rabuka seriously as, in 1987, he had said he was acting on God's word.

"I cannot place credibility on him because he keeps changing his story," Chaudhry said.

"When first asked about this in 1987, he said he had a message from God to do it. He later said he did it by himself to save Fiji and their indigenous interests. Then many years later he said some people had used him to do the coup.

"And now he's making another claim," Chaudhry said.

"He's trying to attract attention to himself because he's out of the limelight.

"That's unfortunate because as prime minister for seven years he had an opportunity to do good.

"And if he applied himself and his government more constructively to develop Fiji, I'm sure he would still be there."

Michael Field New Zealand/South Pacific Correspondent Agence France-Presse E-mail: afp.nz@clear.net.nz  Phone: (64 21) 688438 Fax: (64 21) 694035 Website: http://www.afp.com/english/ 

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