INDIAN NOMINEES TO FIJI CONSTITUTION REVIEW COMMISSION ACCUSED OF

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"BETRAYAL"

SUVA, Fiji Islands (October 7, 2000 – Fiji Times/Fiji Sun/Pasifik Nius)---A prominent Indo-Fijian political leader has accused four Indians who have agreed to serve on Fiji's controversial Constitutional Review Commission as having betrayed the Indian community "at the most crucial hour," according to media reports.

The Fiji Times reported National Federation Party General Secretary Attar Singh as having made the attack after the swearing in of the commission members yesterday.

The paper said the NFP believed the four Indian nominees - social worker Benjamin Bhagwan, business consultant Joe Singh, retired civil servant Fred Achari and lawyer Joseph Maharaj - should be alienated from the community.

The party said the men should be regarded as "outcasts."

Six other major organizations, including the Fiji Labour Party, which led the deposed elected coalition government, also condemned the nominees.

Singh said the men did not represent the Indo-Fijian community and were puppets of the military installed civilian administration.

"They neither have the credibility nor the mandate of the Indo-Fijian community," he told the Fiji Times.

"They are mere puppets of the interim administration. Every right-thinking Indo-Fijian knows that the four members have no following in the society.

"The four members don't enjoy the support of the major Indo-Fijian political parties as well as religious and cultural organizations."

Singh said the men were participating in the commission for their own self-interests.

He said the commission should be disbanded in the best interests of the nation.

Quoted in the Fiji Sun, Singh said: "If interim [Prime Minister Laisenia] Qarase is genuine about guaranteeing the rights of Indo-Fijians and minority groups, he should seek the views of the people and not legitimize discrimination on the basis of tokenism."

Baghwan told the Fiji Sun he had joined the commission because of a higher calling from God.

"I am exercising my democratic right as a citizen of this country to do justice and to help with reconciliation and democracy in this country," he said.

A disappointed ousted deputy prime minister, Dr. Tupeni Baba, said the four Indo-Fijians were limiting the rights of their community by taking part in the "charade."

He said one could conclude that self-interest and expediency were not just limited to the indigenous Fijian community.

Dr. Baba, himself indigenous Fijian, warned that the indigenous community would end up being the loser by restricting the rights and freedoms of other races.

Only the United General Party, one of two parties representing the five percent "general" population - or other races apart from Fijian and Indo-Fijian - supported the Indian nominees.

Tourism industry stalwart Mick Beddoes, a founder of the UGP and a strong supporter of a return to democracy under the 1997 multiracial constitution, resigned from the party in protest over its decision to participate in the commission.

A former president of the rival General Voters Party, William Sorby, was also appointed to the commission.

The commission is headed by University of the South Pacific academic Professor Asesela Ravuvu.

Other members of the 12-member commission, including several who were supporters of rebel leader George Speight, who is now detained on treason charges, are: Adi Litia Cakobau, Berenado Vunibobo, Ratu Rakuita Vakalalabure, Fatiaki Misau, Dr. Apenisa Kurisaqila and Charles Walker.

Qarase said at a media conference yesterday the commission would take five months from next July to consult the indigenous Fijian community on a draft constitution.

General elections would be held under the new constitution by June 2002.

Title -- 3023 FIJI: Indian nominees accused of 'betrayal' Date -- 7 October 2000 Byline – None Origin -- Pasifik Nius Source -- PN/Fiji Times/Fiji Sun, 7/10/00 Copyright -- PN/FT/FS Status -- Unabridged

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INDO-FIJIANS TELL WHY THEY JOINED CONSTITUTION REVIEW COMMISSION

SUVA, Fiji Islands (Oct. 7, 2000 - Fiji's Daily Post/PINA Nius Online)---The four Indo-Fijians who were yesterday named to the Constitution Review Commission said they are not in the least worried about a mandate.

Instead they said the country is more important to them than the petty differences brought on by race and religion. Former senior civil servant Fred Achari, business leader Joe Singh, social worker Benjamin Bhagwan and lawyer Joseph Maharaj said this is what made them accept the offer by the Interim Government.

The four asked the Indo-Fijian community not to prejudge the new Constitution. The four urged the community to take a broader approach towards the whole exercise.

The two main Indian political parties, the Fiji Labour Party and the National Federation Party, and other leading Indian organizations had called for an Indian boycott of the Constitution Review Commission. The two parties rejected invitations to fill places on the Commission.

The Commission is to develop a constitution under which Fiji will return to elected government. It follows the May 19 coup by indigenous Fijian gunmen and unrest, which led to the ousting of Fiji's first Indian prime minister, Mahendra Chaudhry, and his Fiji Labour Party-led coalition government.

After yesterday's ceremony the four Indo Fijian members said certain parts of the 1997 constitution needed to be modified.

Interim Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase lavished praise on the four.

He said the four have high standings in society through their involvement in the business community, social and religious bodies. Mr Qarase said he was confident they would make an invaluable contribution to the Commission.

Mr Qarase commended their courage and confidence in his interim administration.

"I am sure they will perform their duties in an exemplary manner as the Commission proceeds with its work and we salute them for their enduring faith in Fiji and what it can become," Mr Qarase said

However, he expressed his disappointment over the non-participation of the two Indo-Fijian dominated political parties. Mr Qarase said the stance taken by both the National Federation Party and the Fiji Labour Party will be seen by some as a communal act of non-cooperation that will widen the Fijian-Indian divide. He also said threatening statements from certain Indo-Fijian leaders will not help in national reconciliation.

"I ask whether such attitudes and statements are helpful when we are trying to rally the nation and move forward again on that difficult path towards the remaking of Fiji."

Meanwhile, the four Indo-Fijians reminded those opposing Indian participation in the Commission to change their attitude, saying that boycotts and non-participation will not help achieve reconciliation and peace in the country.

The 12-member commission is chaired by Professor Asesela Ravuvu, of the University of the South Pacific. It also includes representatives of the three traditional indigenous Fijian confederacies, the Rotuman community and the General community (Europeans, Chinese, Pacific Islanders and other races).

For additional reports from Fiji’s Daily Post, go to PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT News/Information Links: Other News Resources/Fijilive.

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

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