FIJI: REPORTING IN 'NO MAN'S LAND'

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By Joe Yaya A first-year Fijian student journalist © USP Journalism Programme

SUVA, Fiji Islands (June 6, 2000 – Pacific Media Watch/Pasifik Nius/Niuswire)---Covering the coup as a student journalist is the best practical or attachment I could ever ask for.

From day one on May 19, I entered Parliament House two hours after the armed seizure and was in time for the first media conference held by the coup leader, George Speight.

Reporting for both Wansolwara and Pacific Journalism Online, my visits to Parliament House became frequent after that - and I quickly got used to the sight of armed men.

My neatly laminated University of the South Pacific journalism "press card" was being put to good use.

I was caught in the first crossfire on the first Sunday as we approached the Parliament gates for a media conference with the rebels.

On a few occasions, my student colleagues and I had to walk through bushes and tracks to get to the gates of Parliament in order to avoid the military checkpoints. The military, at one stage, was not allowing any more journalists to enter the complex for security reasons.

At times inside the Parliament complex, you could almost feel the tension and anger from the supporters of the coup who had now made Parliament House their "home."

Sheds were erected all over the parliamentary grounds, clothes were hung from the windows of Parliament offices, the ground was dug and stones from the garden walls removed to make the "lovo" (ground oven) and there was continuous singing.

It was in the evenings when the sun went down when rebel supporters became dangerous. They used the darkness to their advantage to rob houses, shops and cars, and damage properties (including the trashing of the Fiji TV office).

By now, no journalist felt safe staying inside Parliament House and needed to move out before sunset.

While the rebels settled into Parliament House, foreign journalists made the Centra Hotel their temporary home.

The foreign media came prepared for the job and were fully equipped with their digital cameras, laptops, mobile phones and rental cars. We, on the other hand, had to make do with catching a cab (when the driver was brave enough to drive to Parliament House) - and walking the roads and tracks from our newsroom.

Our only modern technology was a digital camera and tape recorders. But we did quite well.

Now with the siege into its third week and negotiations with the rebels in a deadlock, security around the perimeters of Parliament House has somewhat become a "no man's land."

Attending a media conference called by the rebel leader in response to yesterday's ultimatum given by the military, the soldiers at the last checkpoint were hesitant in letting us through.

"We can't guarantee your safety once you leave this point," one told us.

The soldiers said: "This driver has to turn back here."

So, we got off and walked the track we now knew so well and reached Parliament gate when the last glimpse of sunlight was fading. It was now 6:00 p.m.

At the media conference, I felt the rebel leader was quickly running out of resolutions for his cause.

When the questions posed to him by the media began to get "hot," his spokesman would get up and he seemed to whisper in Speight's ear: "That's enough!"

Not long after this, the media conference ended.

We quickly made our way out of there because we had to be home on campus before the curfew time of 8:00 p.m.

 

Title -- 2762 FIJI: Reporting in 'no man's land' Date -- 6 June 2000 Byline – Joe Yaya Origin -- Pacific Media Watch Source -- Pasifik Nius, 6/6/00 Copyright – PN Status -- Unabridged

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