AT LEAST FIVE INJURED DURING FIJI SHOOT-OUT

By Erin Phelan PINA Nius Online

SUVA, Fiji Islands (July 4, 2000 - PINA Nius Online)---Rapid gunfire broke out between George Speight supporters and the Fiji Military Forces in Suva today, resulting in at least five injuries. The majority of the wounded seem to be young men who support the rebel leader, local radio stations reported.

A reporter in the area at the time -- roughly 500 meters (550 yards) from the parliamentary complex held by Speight and his supporters -- reported that the shooting was continuous, and sounded as though it included more than rifle fire. The reporter said that the shooting spread from the time it began, and continued for at least 20 minutes.

The incident came five hours after Fiji’s new interim civilian cabinet was sworn in at a ceremony at Fiji Military Forces headquarters, Queen Elizabeth Barracks, in another part of Suva.

FM96 says that security in the parliamentary complex area has been beefed up by the military. FM96 journalist Malakai Veisamasama, reporting from inside the complex, said that approximately 300 civilian Speight supporters emerged from the complex, claiming that some soldiers had positioned themselves near its fence.

Military spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Filipo Tarakinikini later explained that three soldiers at an observation post withdrew when the Speight supporters approached them. He said the soldiers fired warning shots in the air, but they were cut off by the Speight supporters. He said a rebel soldier with the Speight supporters was shot in the arm when he went to fire on the surrounded soldiers.

Tarakinikini alleged grenade launchers and rifles were fired from areas near the parliamentary complex held by Speight supporters.

He said 14 young men had been detained by the military. He said the Fiji Military Forces soldiers had acted with great professionalism and apart from the rebel soldier all those shot by the army had been shot in the legs.

FM96's Veisamasama said that four civilians and one rebel Counter Revolutionary Warfare (CRW) unit soldier supporting Speight had been wounded and taken from Parliament to the hospital. He said that three other Speight supporters were reported to be missing from the complex.

Veisamasama -- in a later report from the complex where Speight still holds hostage Fiji’s first ethnic Indian prime minister Mahendra Chaudhry and 26 other members of his government -- described the situation as: "Tense. Tense. Tense. Very tense."

Local media also reported that a Fiji Sun photographer was bashed by supporters of Speight. The photographer was said to have been brought by a group of rebel soldiers and questioned over photographs that had appeared in the daily newspaper. He said the group had complained that his photographs were being used by police to identify Speight supporters.

After he was released by this group, the reporter was said to have been met by a different group of Speight supporters, who took him and attacked him. He has been brought to the Colonial War Memorial hospital, along with the five other injured.

Ambulances have arrived at the Colonial War Memorial hospital, and an FM 96 reporter said the injured appeared to have been shot in the leg. One nurse told FM 96 that one individual was 'seriously injured.' Additional police and army have been provided at the hospital, where crowds have gathered.

Tarakinikini said that the situation is now under control. Speight's group was said to have contacted military headquarters requesting a ceasefire, which was later confirmed by Speight's group.

Earlier today, the Fiji Military Forces camp in the northern town of Labasa was been taken over by soldiers Speight supporters, Radio Fiji reported.

Radio Fiji said the commanding officer at the camp had been replaced by local soldiers who support Speight. But a later Radio Fiji report said the soldiers at the Sukanaivalu Barracks in Labasa are split, with only some supporting Speight.

In Suva, Tarakinikini said they could not comment until they get more information, but that they were sending a military team to check out the situation.

Labasa is the main center on Fiji's second largest island, Vanua Levu, and is an important sugar mill town.

An FM 96 reporter in Labasa said that at roughly 3:00 p.m. residents in Labasa began to evacuate the town when they realized what was happening.

In Suva, families living around the parliamentary complex area are also reported to be leaving following today’s shootout.

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

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