TROUBLE CONTINUES IN FIJI’S MAIN NORTHERN TOWN OF LABASA

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SUVA, Fiji Islands (July 16, 2000 - Fiji's Sunday Post, Fiji Sunday Times, Fiji Sunday Sun/PINA Nius Online)---Despite the release of hostages and the lifting of roadblocks around Viti Levu, the northern division's main urban center is still under siege, Fiji's Sunday Post reported today.

It said: "Residents in Labasa yesterday said tension was growing in the sugar milling town, which is the administrative center for Fiji's second biggest island, Vanua Levu.

"Fiji Military Forces spokesman Major Howard Politini confirmed this but said there was hardly anything they could do at present.

"Major Politini said weapons are still out with the public, so it will take some time to bring back normalcy to the northern town."

Rebels and some dissident soldiers had occupied the town's Sukanaivalu army barracks and later took over the town's police station after a fight in which a number of police officers were injured.

The Sunday Post said: "Gun shots which came from the direction of the Labasa army camp in Vaturekuka on Friday night, were just a prelude for other things to come.

"One resident said business closed down after a brawl erupted in the Labasa market at noon yesterday. "We are still living in fear and uncertainty," he said. "'It is difficult living here."

A businessman said: "We thought with the release of hostages, things will normalize. People are going around with weapons but the police station has been cleared yesterday afternoon."

The situation countrywide should normalize in the next week, Major Politini was quoted as saying. This followed the implementation of the Muanikau Accord between the Fiji Military Forces and rebel leader George Speight and his indigenous Fijian followers. It included the release of Fiji's first ethnic Indian prime minister, Mahendra Chaudhry, and other members of his government seized and ousted after Speight and rebel soldiers captured Fiji's parliamentary complex on May 19.

Major Politini said the five resolutions passed at the Great Council of Meeting drew the path towards normalcy.

Major Politini said schools too should resume classes from next week. "Now that the arms have been returned to the army, I believe school should start."

He also said the situation in Labasa; Ovalau and the outer islands should improve.

Major Politini stressed that it was essential for people to work together and cooperate to bring Fiji back on track.

In other developments:

* The Sunday Times reported the Fiji Military Forces fears some dangerous army weapons are still in the possession of civilians despite the return to the military of arms used by rebel Counter Revolutionary Warfare Union soldiers supporting Speight.

* The Sunday Sun reported Chaudhry has officially called for reinstatement of the democratically elected People's Coalition Government.

* Fiji Sunday Post quoted Chaudhry as saying: "Despite the havoc, destruction and anarchy sweeping through at this time, I believe the vast majority of our people are peace loving and law-abiding." He said a vocal and violent minority is holding the whole country at ransom.

"In this moment of national crisis, the challenge before us is to vigilantly defend our nation, its noble heritage of multiculturalism, religious tolerance, human rights and constitutional government."

* The Sunday Sun reported landowners from Saunaka village led by their chief, Ratu Josateki Sovau, had warned against any attempt to cause trouble at Nadi International Airport, which lies on their land. They especially warned Taukei Movement politician Apisai Tora and his fellow Sabeto villagers not to attempt to cause any disruption at the airport. Earlier reports said Saunaka and other Nadi villagers had gone to the airport to support soldiers and police if there was any attempt by Tora and his supporters to cause problems.

* The Fiji Sunday Times said the Ministry of Labour and Industrial relations reported 5827 people had now lost their jobs as a result of the coup.

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

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