CAMERAMAN, TWO SOLDIERS WOUNDED IN GUNFIRE NEAR PARLIAMENT

FIJI UPDATES: http://www.usp.ac.fj/journ/ 

By Alison Ofotalau, Salesh Kumar and Isikeli Sauliga USP Journalism Programme

SUVA, Fiji Islands (May 27, 2000 – USP Journalism Programme/Pasifik Nius/Niuswire)---A foreign cameraman, a Briton attached to Associated Press television news service, and two soldiers were taken to the hospital today after being wounded in a shooting incident at a military checkpoint near the Parliament complex.

A Pacific Journalism Online reporter on the scene -- a checkpoint opposite the Suva Grammar School, near Parliament -- named the APTN cameraman as Jerry Hamer.

Hamer and the soldiers were reported to be in stable condition.

In an interview with Fiji Television, Hamer's colleague said the cameraman was "not serious - just hurt in the arm. Not life-threatening at all."

A FM96 report quoted sources at the Colonial War Memorial Hospital saying the cameraman was injured in his right arm.

One of the soldiers was reportedly shot in his upper arm while a second was shot in the leg.

Another foreign cameraman, not identified by the television station, was standing next to Hamer when the incident happened and gave an account of what happened.

"Basically, there was a group of supporters who were brought by one of the gunmen. They marched outside the gates, breaking up the military checkpoints, stopping food and supplies from coming in," he said.

"Soldiers were firing in the air. I saw one soldier firing at the crowd and it just got crazy for about two minutes.

"One of the APTN cameraman got shot and they marched down to the tents, broke up the barbed wire and walked back. One of the APTN photographers saw the bullet go through."

Pacific Journalism Online reporter Isikeli Sauliga said about 10 soldiers were outnumbered by 200 gunmen and supporters who wanted the roadblock dismantled.

The troops fired two warning shots in the air and further shots were apparently fired by the rebel group, reporter Isikeli Sauliga said.

The rebels then uprooted tents, barbed wire, iron barriers and "crocodile teeth" vehicle barriers from the roadblock and carried them to the Parliament complex. The incident happened before midday and bloodstains were splattered on the road near a checkpoint opposite the Suva Grammar School, near Parliament.

Military commander Commodore Frank Bainimarama expressed his concern and said his men were shot at by rebel leader George Speight's gunmen.

Commodore Bainimarama reaffirmed the army's support for President Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara, who is also the commander-in-chief.

Speaking to journalists at a media conference this afternoon, Commodore Bainimarama said the army was not split over the hostage crisis.

Commodore Bainimarama confirmed that a small group of dissidents joined Speight's group yesterday.

Commodore Bainimarama said the group, including Major Josefa Savua and Ilisoni Ligairi, would be discharged from the army.

He told journalists that it was unfortunate that some members of the elite Counter Revolutionary Warfare Unit through "blind obedience" followed orders that never came from the military headquarters.

The elected government of the Fiji Islands has reacted with alarm to the chiefs' proposals to resolve the week-old hostage crisis, branding the resolutions as "unconstitutional."

It has again demanded the immediate release of the 32 hostages, including Prime Minister Mahendra Chaudhry, who have been held prisoner by gunmen in Parliament since last Friday morning.

The majority of the hostages, 17, are indigenous Fijians. "The call for the dissolution of an elected Parliament and the appointment of an interim government are unequivocally unconstitutional," said acting leader of the Fiji Labour Party-led "people's coalition" government, Ratu Tevita Momoedonu.

"They are therefore absolutely unacceptable to the party, just as they are to the people of Fiji and the international community.

"There cannot be any political solution negotiated while the elected government, including the prime minister, remain in captivity."

He said international constitutional experts had made it "abundantly clear" that the President's powers did not extend to the replacement of the democratically elected government and prime minister in the way proposed.

In addition, the constitutional powers of the Great Council of Chiefs did not extend beyond appointment of the President and 14 members of the Senate, he said.

Ratu Tevita also said a delegation of the elected coalition government held talks with Commonwealth Secretary-General Don McKinnon and the special envoy of the United Nations Secretary-General, Sergio Vieira de Mello, on Wednesday.

"The strong and unwavering positions taken by both organizations in relation to the actions of the terrorist group led by [George] Speight is a source of great encouragement," Ratu Tevita said.

The UN Secretary General, Koffi Annan, said his representatives had warned the chiefs that the Security Council would act if Fiji allowed the racially motivated coup to succeed.

"And (we) did indicate to them that the international community and the UN will not accept a military takeover in Fiji - and we are living in an era that this sort of behavior is not going to be tolerated – and tried to dissuade him," he said.

"From developments obviously they haven't succeeded and I'm expecting a detailed report from Mr. Sergio De Mello."

* Both Australian Prime Minister John Howard and Foreign Minister Alexander Downer condemned the chiefs for bowing to "an act of terrorism" in Fiji.

Radio Fiji quoted Downer today as saying the resolutions offered to rebel leader Speight were "foolishness."

"The last thing the Great Council of Chiefs should be doing is caving into an act of terror," he said.

* New Zealand's Foreign Affairs Minister, Phil Goff, has appealed to Fijian authorities to bring in outside negotiators to end the country's hostage crisis.

Goff said Fiji's first priority must be to free Prime Minister Chaudhry and his ministers. The Foreign Minister said New Zealand has offered Fiji's Police Commissioner, Isikia Savua, its experience and expertise in police negotiations, but that had been declined.

Goff warned there had to be negotiation or the lives of the hostages would be jeopardized.

New Zealand has consistently ruled out an armed response to the crisis.

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