FIJI ISLANDS RECONCILIATION MINISTRY HAILED

SUVA, Fiji Islands (September 24, 2000 - Fiji's Sunday Post/Sunday Times/FM96/PINA Nius Online)---Fiji's newly established National Reconciliation Ministry is receiving encouraging support from different communities in Fiji, said permanent secretary Jeremia Waqanisau.

Fiji's Sunday Post reported Mr. Waqanisau said the ministry had received several suggestions on national reconciliation from four public consultations held so far. He said this is the time when everyone needs to work towards reconciliation and, with the support received so far, he is optimistic about the whole exercise.

"The Indo-Fijians are also prepared to contribute towards reconciliation and I don't think any Indo-Fijian or any other community will not want to participate in this process," Mr. Waqanisau told the Sunday Post.

The ministry was established by the interim government following the May 19 coup by indigenous Fijian rebels, and the deposing of the government led by Fiji's first ethnic Indian prime minister, Mahendra Chaudhry. The interim administration was formed after unrest following the coup and is supported by the Great Council of Chiefs and the Fiji Military Forces, which declared martial law to halt the deterioration in law and order.

Mr. Waqanisau commended the Fiji Teachers Confederation for taking the initiative to pursue the task of reconciliation. "I think other organizations should take the cue from these two unions," he said. "Our Ministry has already held four public consultations in which representatives of several organizations and some individuals gave their views on the ways we could bring a national reconciliation."

He said a Council of National Reconciliation will be formed before the end of October to speed up the process. "We are looking at having some 15 members on the Council, some of whom will be civil servants and will only act as advisers." Mr. Waqanisau said his Ministry will do all its best to bring about national reconciliation. "It is a difficult task but if everyone contributes and participates, we will achieve our goal."

He said more consultations will be held to allow people to express their views. "We will be inviting all Indo-Fijian religious groups soon and hope to ascertain views and suggestions from them," he said

Meanwhile, the deposed Peoples Coalition government believes that peace and reconciliation can't eventuate without truth, atonement and a sincere wish to seek forgiveness, the Sunday Post reported.

Coalition spokesperson, ousted Deputy Prime Minister Tupeni Baba, said the Interim Administration was suggesting a disturbing agenda to divide, and not to unite the people. "Nothing can justify the horrors that have been inflicted upon our country and its peaceful, law-abiding citizens," he said.

In other developments:

* The Sunday Post reported mainly Indo Fijian farmers whose leases on indigenous Fijian owned land are not renewed when they run out are being assured that they will be resettled.

The assurance came from Apisai Tora, Minister for ALTA (Agricultural Landlord and Tenants Act). The minister said the 32 families in Labasa who have been recently served eviction notices should be assured that the government will help resettle them.

"We are preparing a rehabilitation plan for the evicted farmers. I assure them that they will be taken care of," Mr Tora said. He said the Interim Government has begun work on the land issue and is now meeting with all concerned groups. "I am visiting farms around the country to talk to the farmers."

* The Sunday Times said the Fiji Military Forces is investigating acts of brutality on villagers by soldiers searching for rebels, escaped prisoners, and missing weapons. Villagers had told The Fiji Times soldiers beat village men and stole property during searches.

* FM96 reported a record number of people were arrested on Saturday night for breaching curfew hours. 124 people were arrested in Suva, and seven people in neighboring Nausori. 102 people were arrested for breaking curfew in Suva on Friday night. The curfew is still in force in the Suva area and runs from 10:00 p.m. to 5:00 a.m.

* FM96 reported a secondary school student has been questioned by the military regarding the home made bomb found near the Suva Magistrates Court before coup leader George Speight and other alleged leading rebels were due to appear. The military says the girl has been released after being questioned. The girl had given information to the military that could help in the arrest of the people involved in suspicious activities.

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

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