FIJI CRISIS: DEADLINES, ULTIMATUMS AND NEW PLANS

By Erin Phelan

Suva, Fiji Islands (June 28, 2000 - PINA Nius Online)---The clock was set yesterday, with a midday deadline given to George Speight by the military to sign the accord or the military would move ahead.

Radio Fiji reports this afternoon that Speight's group has rejected the military's demand.

Yesterday, the military gave George Speight and his group until midday to come to a decision concerning the "Muanikau Accord," an agreement reached Friday that was never signed. Local media this morning have reported that the military would wait and if the document was not signed they will forge ahead with their plans.

The military's plans center around setting up an interim civilian government to run Fiji for two years. The Fiji Times this morning reported that the military began contacting those who will be named in the administration, and said that discussions will continue today on the final make-up of the administration.

Speight's camp continues to call for the Tui Vuda, Ratu Josefa Iloilo, to be named as Interim President. On May 29th, when the military traditionally approached the President, Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara, and asked him to step aside. He did. However, a sticking point between Speight's group and the military is that Ratu Sir Kamisese has stepped aside -- not stepped down.

The Fiji Times reports that the rebels suspect the military will reinstate Ratu Sir Kamisese once the hostages are released.

In an interview with a New Zealand journalist, broadcast on FM 96 this morning, George Speight made light of the ultimatum, and said his group would go to the Tui Vuda's house this evening to discuss other options. "I find it funny that they are giving an ultimatum to the Indigenous People of Fiji," Mr. Speight said. He claims to have staged the coup in the name of the Indigenous People of Fiji, whom he says fully support his actions.

Though support is there for Speight and his men, as evidenced by the hundreds of Indigenous Fijians camped on the grounds of the Parliament complex, it is by no means unanimous. Letters to the editor in all three daily newspapers, written by Indigenous Fijians, repeatedly condemn his actions. Thousands of jobs have been lost in the past six weeks, irrespective of race. Many of the now unemployed are Indigenous Fijians.

In a news conference last night, military spokesman Lt. Col. Filipo Tarakinikini said that the country couldn't go on without appropriate political organization. The country has been without ministers for five weeks, and ministries are being run by permanent secretaries.

"The country cannot wait indefinitely for them to continue their delaying tactics, while they try to squeeze every ounce of concessions from us," Tarakinikini said.

Speight's group responded by saying that the military can lay down ultimatums, but these will not bring them closer to a solution. It is unknown what their next move will be.

Sources say that the military's interim civilian government could be announced as early as tomorrow.

On Day 41 of the Fiji Crisis:

* George Speight and his armed men continue to hold Fiji's first democratically elected ethnic Indian Prime Minister, Mahendra Chaudhry, and 26 Members of Parliament hostage at the parliamentary complex in Veiuto, a suburb of Suva.

* The New Zealand Trade unions have discontinued their economic sanctions against Fiji, imposed one week ago, reports the Fiji Times. Cargo will now be free to move between Fiji and New Zealand, which is expected to remove some of the problems facing the garment industry, that imports raw materials from New Zealand and Australia.

Pacific Islands News Association (PINA) Website: http://www.pinanius.org 

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