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SUVA, Fiji Islands (November 28, 2000 - Fiji's Daily Post/The Fiji Sun/The Fiji Times/PINA Nius Online)---Fiji's Interim Foreign Affairs Minister, Kaliopate Tavola, yesterday responded to an outburst by New Zealand High Commissioner Tia Barrett on the situation in the country. He called it "ill-timed" and "foolish."

Fiji's Daily Post reported Mr. Tavola said the high commissioner's comments at an awards ceremony for University of the South Pacific journalism students "certainly marked a clear departure from his usual diplomatic role."

Mr. Barrett, chief guest at the function, hit out at what he called the slow judicial process in Fiji in the wake of the May 19 coup and the unrest and violence which followed.

Mr. Tavola replied: "The police and the judicial system face a complicated task in vetting through the information that is available and to ensure that individual's human rights are not encroached in any way during the investigations."

Mr. Tavola said he was shocked with the statements because on the same Friday he spoke with Mr. Barrett on the restoration of official dialogue with the New Zealand government.

"In retrospect, however, if his statements at the USP over the weekend represent the kind of dialogue that the New Zealand government is envisaging, then I have grave misgivings."

Mr. Tavola defended the Interim Government from Mr. Barrett's comments on the absence of democratic institutions in the country.

"I believe the high commissioner has conveniently forgotten what happened in this country on May 19 and its aftermath from which we are still trying to recover."

He urged the high commissioner to support the Interim Administration.

The foreign affairs minister said Mr. Barrett's comments on indigenous rights were a "sad reflection of his understanding of the Fiji situation."

Meanwhile, Mr. Barrett said yesterday that computers in their immigration section were processing the latest database when alleged rebel lawyer Tuberi Vodo supposedly sneaked into New Zealand for medical care.

"The immigration (personnel) were still processing into the computer the latest database when they missed him," Mr. Barrett said. He said Mr. Vodo would not be deported after his treatment and . . . the New Zealand government (has not) made any official request to the Interim Government to pay for the medical treatment.

Mr. Vodo underwent surgery in New Zealand, which was paid out of a $140,000 fund through a medical aid program under the auspices of the New Zealand Ministry of Trade and Foreign Affairs.

Mr. Barrett said he could not disclose the details of the medical condition and the amount of money spent on Mr. Vodo. "That would be a matter for the medical authorities," the high commissioner said.

Mr. Vodo is one of the four lawyers representing coup leader George Speight and his group, who have been detained in a temporary prison on Nukulau Island off Suva since August.

Mr. Vodo, a Suva-based lawyer, was allegedly among hordes of supporters seen in the parliamentary complex during the hostage crisis after the May 19 takeover of Parliament and the seizing of the Chaudhry government by Speight and rebel soldiers.

Mr. Vodo's name was among numerous others placed on New Zealand's "black list."

Details of Mr. Vodo's case emerged in the New Zealand Parliament last Tuesday.

New Zealand immigration officials did not recognize him from the list of the 154 people banned from entering New Zealand because of their alleged involvement in the May 19 coup.

Meantime, in continuing legal actions over the validity of the 1997 constitution, Anu Patel, the lawyer for Chandrika Prasad, has opposed Justice Michael Scott's application to have certain portions of Justice Anthony Gates' landmark judgment on the constitution deleted, the Fiji Sun reported.

Mr. Patel told the court that Justice Scott's application carried no merit, questioning Justice Scott's lawyers on the rules under which the application was filed.

Justice Scott said he wanted to appeal the section of Justice Gates' ruling in which he criticized the alleged behavior of three judges during the May 19 coup and events following.

The High Court judge said he believed that the criticism by Justice Gates was aimed at Chief Justice Sir Timoci Tuivaga, Justice Daniel Fatiaki and himself.

Junior counsel appearing for Justice Scott, Shailend Krishna, told The Fiji Sun that they filed the application as an interested party. He said Justice Scott wanted the section on the judges contained in Justice Gates' ruling deleted.

Chandrika Prasad, a farmer currently living as a refugee in Lautoka, had sued the State and the Attorney General, claiming compensation and a High Court declaration on constitutional matters.

In other news, The Fiji Times reported today that while police have completed their investigation into soldiers accused of being involved in last month's mutiny, the military's investigatory work is continuing.

A statement from the military’s headquarters yesterday stated that over 70 people - both military and civilians - have been questioned so far.

"The RFMF stands by its decision to see the due process of the law being exercised to the fullest," the statement said.

CID director Senior Superintendent Emosi Vunisa said police would hand over their files on the investigations to the Director of Public Prosecutions.

Meanwhile, 40 soldiers from the former Counter-Revolutionary Warfare Unit whose members were involved in the coup and mutiny are still being held in protective custody by the military.

The soldiers are said to be enjoying the pay and other benefits entitled to a full-time soldier as well as visitation privileges.

Pacific Islands News Association (PINA) Website: 

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