By Michael Field

SUVA, Fiji Islands (November 5, 2000 – Agence France-Presse)---Fiji was facing military dictatorship Sunday as evidence mounted that a military mutiny Thursday was part of a wider power struggle that has turned into brutal revenge with soldiers beating other soldiers to death.

It was revealed Sunday that former Prime Minister and coup leader Sitiveni Rabuka is now a major suspect and is under investigation for his role in the mutiny at Queen Elizabeth Barracks Thursday which left eight people dead and more than 30 with injuries ranging from critical to mild.

Since the incident, which has been portrayed so far as an ill-planned attempt to assassinate Fiji Military Forces commander Commodore Voreqe Bainimarama, the country was in-effect under martial law, first imposed following George Speight's unsuccessful May 19 coup. Arbitrary military arrests, shootings and beatings have been reported locally since Thursday.

On the surface Bainimarama was the target because of a plan to abolish the Counter Revolutionary Warfare (CRW) special forces unit whose members had played a key role in Speight's seizure of Parliament and the 58 days of holding the government of Prime Minister Mahendra Chaudhry hostage.

The Fiji Times reported Rabuka was under investigation for his role in Thursday's events. A week ago he declared his desire to be president.

He went to the barracks Thursday afternoon claiming to want to negotiate an end to the shooting but later was halted by the military with a rebel soldier in his car. His cell phone records have already been seized.

A military spokesman told the Times Rabuka was banned from all military facilities because he made statements that could have incited the mutiny.

The government owned Daily Post said Sunday three members of the Great Council of Chiefs and a senior army officer, who they did not name, were behind a plot hatched Wednesday night to overthrow Bainimarama.

The paper said two of the chiefs had been close to Speight and they were worried authorities were closing in on them.

"The only way to get out of the mess that they brought onto themselves is to get rid of the person that can see them prosecuted," a government official told the newspaper. "That person is the army commander."

Rabuka is chairman of the GCC.

If he had a role -- which he denied -- it would change Thursday's events from a mutiny to a failed coup.

Military spokesman Howard Politini said 40 of the 80 members of the CRW had taken part in the mutiny with five of them killed and between 12 and 15 still on the run. Three loyal soldiers were killed.

Fiji media were reporting, however, that the rebel dead were not killed in action but died of beatings.

One of them, Selestino Kalounivale, had not been at the barracks Thursday and was picked up later. By Friday he was listed "dead on arrival" at the hospital.

His widow, Ana Kalounivale, told the Fiji Times that a relative called from the hospital: "Our relative said you could barely make out that it was Sele because his face was badly beaten up."

An infamous prison escapee, Alifereti Nimacere, was killed by the military Friday after they said he reached for a gun. Relatives say the military beat him to death.

Well placed sources told AFP that all five CRW fatalities were the result of beatings.

The government's Human Rights Commission Saturday night issued a statement saying it would investigate.

"People in custody have the right to expect due process in the law and to be told that they have the right to a lawyer as soon as practicable after an arrest or detention," commission chair Justice Sailosi Kepa said.

The military installed interim government has become almost invisible with interim Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase making only one brief television appearance Friday while President Josefa Iloilo remains in Australia seriously ill.

Bainimarama, now stationed at the heavily guarded Walu Bay navy base, runs the country.

However, highly placed legal sources say a High Court ruling due Tuesday threatens both the military and the interim government with Justice Tony Gates, an Australian, to issue a declaratory judgment in the High Court in Lautoka on whether the constitution still exists. He is expected to rule that the military abrogation of the 1997 constitution was illegal and that the Chaudhry administration is still the legal government.

The ruling would strip Bainimarama and Qarase of any legal legitimacy with sources saying in the current mood it could see the country becoming a simple dictatorship.

"Its very important because the interim government has tried to convince the world that they are a government of law and the rule of law, and they are about to be told they are not," the source said.

Michael Field New Zealand/South Pacific Correspondent Agence France-Presse E-mail:  Phone: (64 21) 688438 Fax: (64 21) 694035 Website: 

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