FIJI HEADED FOR SERIOUS BACKLASH: COMMONWEALTH SECRETARY GENERAL MCKINNON

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PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (May 29, 2000 – The National)---Fiji is bound to face a serious backlash from the international community if elected Prime Minister Mahendra Chaudhry and 30 other hostages being held inside Parliament are not released, said Commonwealth Secretary General Don McKinnon.

Speaking to journalists over the weekend on a stopover in Port Moresby from Fiji, Mr. McKinnon warned that if the hostages are not released, the already tense situation the country might lead to a loss of lives.

"The danger level is very high; three people have (already) been injured,'' he said.

Mr. McKinnon is en route to Australia; he had earlier stopped over at Buka in North Solomons province prior to landing at Port Moresby.

The Commonwealth Secretary General said that he had already delivered a message to Fiji coup leader George Speight calling for the unconditional release of the hostages.

He said the Melanesian Spearhead Group, of which Fiji and PNG are members, is also strongly opposed to the armed overthrow of Mr. Chaudhry's legitimately elected government

On the apparent support of the Fijian Great Council of Chiefs for Mr. Speight’s extremist nationalist views, Mr. McKinnon said: "They (chiefs) are not clear about the international repercussions.''

He said the only way to solve the problem in Fiji is to amend the constitution -- something which cannot be done under the current circumstances.

On the agenda of Mr. McKinnon's short visit to Port Moresby are courtesy calls on Governor General Silas Atopare, Prime Minister Sir Mekere Morauta, Opposition Leader Bill Skate and Minister for Mining and Bougainville Affairs Sir Michael Somare.

He departs for Australia later today.

For additional reports from The National, go to PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT News/Information Links: Newspapers/The National (Papua New Guinea).

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