FORUM FOREIGN MINISTERS COME DOWN HARD ON FIJI AND SOLOMONS

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APIA, Samoa (August 15, 2000 - Radio Australia’s Pacific Beat)---Pacific Forum leaders warned Pacific nations that the unlawful overthrow of governments in the region will no longer be tolerated among member countries.

Foreign ministers of the 16 Nation Pacific Forum met in Samoa over the weekend to discuss regional security issues and their response to the political crises in Fiji and the Solomon Islands.

In a shift from their much criticized, non-interventionist stance taken in the past, the Forum leaders agreed to form a committee to deal with countries violating its principles.

The leaders condemned the use of force to overthrow Fiji’s constitutionally elected government and demanded the return of the country’s democratic government.

They also welcomed the cease-fire agreement in the Solomons and recognized Australia’s role in facilitating the negotiations.

"The ease at which these coups in Fiji and Solomons took place has taken all of us in the Pacific by surprise," said Samoa Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi in an interview with Pacific Beat’s Clement Paligaru.

"We need to be worried that this kind of disease doesn’t spread to other countries of the region," he said. "We need to take action. All the countries of the South Pacific should have some kind of coordinated policy to tackle these problems when it does arise again."

The prime minister said he would like Fiji to have due process of law, a government that is constitutionally elected, and an independent court system.

"These are all principles of modern democracy that will guarantee the freedom of everyone regardless of race, color or beliefs," he said.

Meanwhile, deposed Prime Minister Mahendra Chaudhry praised Sailele’s statements.

"It’s about time countries show a little more responsibility in reacting to those issue, particularly the overthrow of a democratically-elected government," Chaudhry told Pacific Beat’s Jemima Garrett in Sydney.

"It’s happening with alarmingly frequency in our region and it’s about time they stand up and be counted," he said.

Chaudhry said the Forum’s reputation in dealing with such issues is at stake.

"They must be honest about such matters," he said. "They cannot sweep it under the carpet and pretend nothing of any significance has happened."

After meeting with government leaders in Australia, Chaudhry will meet with officials at the United Nations in New York, the Commonwealth Secretariat, and India to seek a tough stand against Fiji.

"Some of the people who have done this (coup) are old players in the game and were involved in the 1987 coups and must be investigated and brought to justice," he said.

"There should be no recognition given to the regime that is there. Tough action should be given against Fiji unless the 1997 Constitution and democratically-elected government is reinstated," he said.

The Australia government also praised the Forum for its action.

Australia Foreign Minister Alexander Downer said South Pacific states are showing a greater sense of shared responsibility in responding to the crisis in Fiji.

He told Parliament that the Pacific Forum meeting confronted the difficulties in Fiji.

"It was an historic occasion," Downer said. "There was a strong sense of shared responsibility in partnership amongst the Forum membership."

For additional reports from Radio Australia/Pacific Beat, go to PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT News/Information Links: Radio/TV News/Radio Australia/Pacific Beat.

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