FIJI'S FIRST REFUGEES SPEAK OF TERROR AND THREATS BY MASKED MILITIA

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Radio Australia Report Melbourne, Australia June 14, 2000

Well there's been some progress in Fiji where efforts to resolve the 27-day old hostage crisis have moved forward.

After more than a week of frozen talks, Fiji's military rulers are again negotiating with rebel leader George Speight for the release of 31 MP's held in the Parliament compound.

While the military and Speight are at least talking, the emergence of Fiji's first refugee camp has unsettled Fijian society.

Seventy-two Indo-Fijians are camped at a school in Lautoka, on the west coast of the main island, after being forced to flee their homes by masked thugs.

Shocked by the wanton violence perpetrated on the Indo-Fijian community, Fijians have overwhelmed the camp with offers of food and supplies.

Di Martin visited the refugees and filed this report.

PRASAND: They make sit all my family here and they ask for money and my father said there's no money; then they want to frighten us; then they put the spade here.

MARTIN: So they bang the spade against the wall and made that crack in the wall?

PRASAND: Yes, and they warned us if you don't give the money we do the same to you on your neck.

MARTIN: Hiresh Prasand is only sixteen years old. His family suffered not one, but two attacks the night of George Speight's attempted coup - attacks when they were physically assaulted.

PRASAND: First, people came here and they stole our chicken and they all spread their boots and broke the window there and they kill our dog; the dog was sitting here. And they took some cash money and they also break this door and go inside and take all the equipment from there.

MARTIN: Did they threaten you at all?

PRASAND: Yes. They say if you people don't give us anything we'll burn your house.

MARTIN: So you understood that they would burn the house with you inside it?

PRASAND: Yes, they will burn the house with our family inside. They were asking for the money but my father said there was no money and they were getting angrier and angrier and they hit my father and myself. My sister was shouting, 'Don't hit my father.' And they also hit my sister.

MARTIN: The Prasand family has been living in fear ever since. And they're not the only ones in their small village of Muaniweni - just 50 kilometers (30 miles) north of Suva.

A third of all homes in the predominantly Indo-Fijian village have been attacked since the crisis began - some as recently as three days ago.

A FARMER: Very much frightened - even the dog barks. We afraid somebody might come and attack us. The cockerels they make the sound; the cows they make the sound and the cows they make the sound. We very much frightened.

MARTIN: This terrified farmer was so shaken by his experience that he didn't want to be identified.

FARMER: They usually attack in the night time. It was on 11th June, a Sunday, at nine o'clock. Four people came, four indigenous people came - Fijians - they came and threw the stone at my window, break the glass and they demand the money. If you don't give the money we'll take your wife and your daughter away. They destroy our belongings, they smash everything inside the house and if you don't let them come inside they will smash everything and go inside the house and smash all the belongings.

MARTIN: Did you recognize any of these attackers?

FARMER: No, no, no can't - because they put the balaclavas on. After that, on Monday morning, I took my one son, his wife and a daughter and one son and daughter and put them at a relative’s place in Suva.

I thought us two stay here - myself and my wife - never mind we die. We don't give a damn because I am somewhere around about sixties and about fifty-five.

MARTIN: You've lived here all your life. Did you ever expect something like this to happen in Fiji?

FARMER: No, no, no, no I would not expect something would happen like this in Fiji. This is a very tragic situation.

MARTIN: The attack Sunday night came despite police and military patrols of the area. The Indo-Fijian community, who previously saw the majority indigenous police force as generally neutral, now harbored deep suspicions about local officers.

Also from Muanaweni, the Chandra family say after the thugs slaughtered a cow in front of them - deeply offensive for the Hindu community - it was carted away on the back of a police truck. And they say a man wearing a police uniform was driving one of the vehicles.

This is 19-year-old Amatesh Chandra.

CHANDRA: I tried to ring to the police and then they came in about one hour. When they came we saw the place where they slaughtered and they were asking all the rubbish questions. When I told them that they are going through a particular way and they could stop them and ask them why they are taking the things and I gave them the vehicle number and all those things - they came that way but didn't disturb the vehicle but instead came to us and started asking our father's name, brother's name, mother's name and what-not and at that time we were not feeling good to call to the police because they were not doing their job as normal. Instead of asking the people for our father's name or our brother's name or our history, they should have stopped the vehicle on the way.

MARTIN: Amatesh and his family had to flee into the jungle after the attack, hiding there for three nights. When word of the raids filtered down to Suva, the Fiji Human Rights group organized a bus to get families out of the area.

Anet Singh is one of the organizers.

SINGH: When I was actually in the village, I just thought that there would be at least fifteen people - that initially we thought of helping. But when we went back we realized how many people were just coming out in numbers and there are still so many who are left because the bus could not accommodate them all. We had a small bus and it was all full with people. I'm sure most of the people who are left behind are willing to come join us here. I mean it's shocking. This is absolutely shocking --what we saw and the manner in which people have suffered. I don't think even that level of suffering ever happened in Fiji before.

MARTIN: Is it a watershed for Fiji - in a human rights sense?

SINGH: Very much so.

MARTIN: 72 Indo-Fijians finally arrived in Lautoka, on the west of the main island, five days ago, after Anet and his colleagues failed to find anyone willing to house the group in Suva, fearing they would become a target.

The 72 are now camped in a Lautoka school ground and locals are donating supplies and food. They are Fiji's first refugees, a development that has taken many by surprise and has deeply underscored the damage this crisis has done to Fiji as a nation.

VOX POPS: I got no future in Fiji because this is the third coup. After the first and second coup we thought Fiji might get good. When it was very good in a running standard, they made another coup and I thought Indian's - they've got no future in Fiji.

(First broadcast June 14, 2000)

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