NEW ZEALAND ACCUSED OF FABRICATING FIJI NEWS

SUVA, Fiji Islands (December 1, 2000 - The Fiji Times/Fiji's Daily Post/Fiji Sun/FM96, Radio Australia/PINA Nius Online)---A New Zealand television channel has raised the ire of Fiji's Interim Government for allegedly fabricating a news item about the intimidation of Indians in Fiji.

New Zealand's TV3 News on Wednesday aired a news item showing a shooting incident, which it claimed took place in Labasa, The Fiji Times reported today.

The footage showed Fijian civilians with automatic weapons allegedly shooting at an Indian school complex.

The interim administration says it will formally protest to the New Zealand Government about the contents of the news item, the Fiji Times said.

In a report to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Fiji High Commissioner in Wellington Isimeli Bainimara said the news footage included the building of makeshift sheds, reported to be a refugee camp in the North.

Mr. Bainimara said New Zealand Foreign Affairs Phil Goff was asked for comment and as usual he did not hesitate and condemned Fiji's interim administration.

"As I had not received any report of indiscriminate shooting in the last few weeks and also as the footage was suspiciously beefed up from some earlier occurrences, I immediately contacted the Acting Commissioner of Police, Moses Driver, for clarification and was told that no such incident had taken place anywhere in the North in the last four weeks," he said.

Mr. Bainimara said he contacted the reporter who filed the story and was told the incident had occurred in Fiji in the last two weeks.

"I told him that his report was unethical and irresponsible journalism and that I would be filing an official complaint to the Broadcasting Standards Authority," he said.

Mr. Bainimara said he had conveyed his disappointment to Mr. Goff who "was very defensive," the Fiji Times reported.

In other Fiji developments:

* The ownership and management of all schedule A and B State lands were finally handed over to the Native Land Trust Board yesterday, Fiji's Daily Post reported.

Interim Lands Minister Mitieli Bulanauca described it as a great achievement for the Interim Administration and indigenous Fijians as a whole.

He said indigenous Fijian deserved to get their land back.

"The transferring of the land to NLTB will give Fijians happiness, a great feeling as they had struggled for it for a long time. Monetary gain is not everything," Mr. Bulanauca said.

"The struggle to get these lands back from Government had been a long one and it dates back to the 1930s and then there was a pressure put on the Colonial Government when the NLTB came into being in 1940."

He said the delay by the two previous indigenous governments, the Alliance and Rabuka-led governments, in transferring the lands to its rightful owners may have been one of the main reasons for their downfall.

"And perhaps the events of May 19 could also be due to this delay, as I have heard," Mr. Bulanauca said, referring to the coup by armed indigenous Fijian rebels.

"The long struggle of the Fijian people has at last come to fruition. What saddens us is that two Fijian-dominated governments didn't have the will to do it. Maybe it can only take a non-political government such as ours to see it through."

However, deposed Prime Minister Mahendra Chaudhry has questioned the legality of the transfer saying the Interim Administration had no legal basis for the transfer.

Mr. Bulanauca said the mandate for the transfer came directly from the Great Council of Chiefs.

* The President of the Oceania National Olympic Committees, Kevan Gosper, said the Australian and New Zealand governments are taking the soft option on Fiji by using sporting sanctions, Radio Australia reported.

Mr. Gosper, an Australian, said sports sanctions are not an appropriate means to resolve political differences:

"I think the governments should be big enough to recognize that if they want to put pressure on Fiji it should be done through diplomatic and political channels but not done at the expense of sport," he said.

Mr. Gosper's comments came after New Zealand failed to gain support from sports people to ban Fiji from an International Rugby Board sevens tournament in New Zealand and to move the Oceania National Olympic Committees office from Suva to New Zealand.

* The Fiji Sun reported New Zealand High Commissioner Tia Barrett and Fiji Minister for Foreign Affairs, External Trade and Sugar Kaliopate Tavola have entered into dialogue in an attempt to rebuild relations between the two countries.

Mr. Barrett and Mr. Tavola had recently engaged in a public war of words regarding New Zealand's hard stance against Fiji and Mr. Barrett mentioned he had been the center of controversy for remarks he made last week.

"Let me say that although they may have sounded like harsh words, they were intended in friendship. New Zealand is not Fiji's enemy, our people are fond of this country and its citizens, all of them," said Mr. Barrett.

Mr. Barrett said that remarks he made with regard to Fiji's failure to return to democratic rule, slow progress into investigations into the May 19 event and the military mutiny were made from the perspective of a concerned friend.

* FM96 reported Fiji's Police Commissioner Isikia Savua has been cleared of all allegations and reinstated.

Permanent Secretary in the President's Office, Luke Ratuvuki, confirmed this.

A tribunal headed by Chief Justice Sir Timoci Tuivaga, was appointed to investigate allegations against Mr. Savua following the May 19 coup, including claims he did not do enough to stop what happened or was involved.

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

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