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SUVA, Fiji Islands (December 16, 2000 - Fiji's Daily Post/PINA Nius Online)---Two men believed to be part of a secessionist group that wants the Fiji island of Rotuma to be declared a republic have been arrested.

The father and son, whose names have been withheld, were arrested by police from Suva who were on the island for the past week.

Criminal Investigations Department director Emosi Vunisa said the arrest is part of an on-going investigation into reports the group, backed by an American David Korem, wants to create a "state-within-a-state."

Rotuma, which has been politically part of Fiji since 1881, is 465 kilometers (279 miles) north of Fiji. Its people are Polynesian and most now live and work on Fiji's main islands.

Mr. Vunisa said the men could face treason charges because of the seriousness of the offence.

The men, who are of Rotuman origin, were brought to Suva yesterday afternoon on the 4:00 p.m. flight from the island.

Police said the younger man is a resident of Australia, while his father lives in Suva.

Mr. Vunisa said police believe the men are linked to Rotuman self-proclaimed chief Henry Gibson, who is believed to be in New Zealand.

Mr. Gibson, who is the chief of the Malmahau clan, has been mooting the proposal to sever ties with Fiji since the 1970s.

Korem, the founder of the Dominion of Melchizedek, a so-called state that only exists in Cyber Space, visited the island in January of last year.

He was accompanied by part-Rotuman Taraivini Rae Costello and distributed a so-called draft Rotuman Constitution and incited the island's 2,200 inhabitants to break away.

Under a sub-heading titled "Sovereign Status," the document says: "The Dominion of Melchizedek is granted by this constitution all the rights that the Vatican enjoys within Italy."

During his visit Mr. Korem promised to fund new hospitals, improve schools and develop other government projects.

Mr. Vunisa said he was not sure if Korem was still backing the group. "Whether or not he is still involved with the group I don't know."

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

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