ROTUMAN REBELS DENY SECESSIONIST CHARGES

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SUVA, Fiji Islands (December 29, 2000 – Fiji’s Daily Post)---A former Fiji resident with Australian citizenship yesterday denied he was behind moves to form a secessionist group on Rotuma Island.

Gagaj Rafeok Riobi, who is in his early 40s, appeared before Chief Magistrate Salesi Temo charged with committing acts with seditious intentions to promote ill feelings and hostility among Rotumans between November 17 and December 12.

His lawyer, Tevita Fa, told the court that Riobi had come to Rotuma upon invitation from the Malmahau clan to make submissions to the Constitution Review Commission, who was supposed to meet on Rotuma in November.

State prosecutor Asishna Prasad has completed the first phase of disclosures, but said it was impossible to have a trial in two weeks. Mr. Temo then adjourned the trial to 11:00 a.m. today, following submissions by Mr. Fa for a trial as early as two weeks from now.

"They've charged my man. If the Director of Public Prosecutions is so confident then we're ready to sit for trial tomorrow. They don't need to request for time," Mr. Fa said.

Mr. Fa said that Riobi, who has been in police custody for the past 12 days, was given a two-month leave from his employers in Sydney. Mr. Fa also produced in court a copy of a letter from his employers stating that his client's leave had expired. He said the accused was willing to pay a cash bail of up to F$ 2000 and surety of up to F$ 10,000. He said that if the State could not proceed with a trial in two weeks, Riobi should be allowed to return to Australia and attend court later on a given date. The court has withheld his passport and travel documents.

Mr. Temo said he was of the view that the accused should be released to travel to Australia because sedition was a minor offence under the law.

"Come with alternatives tomorrow if you can't fix a trial date," Mr. Temo told the prosecutor. "This court has other priority cases and must attend to those first," he said, referring to the George Speight and the heroin cases.

Riobi and his father, who lives in Suva, were arrested by a team of policemen from Suva on Rotuma on December 15. They belong to the Malmahau clan, which is believed to be backed by an American, David Korem, who wanted to create "a state within the state" on Rotuma early this year.

Police believe Riobi is also linked to Henry Gibson, who is in New Zealand. Mr. Gibson, who is the chief of the Malmahau clan, has been behind moves to severe ties with Fiji since the 1970s and after the 1987 coup.

Rotumans have been politically part of Fiji since 1881. Rotuma is located 465 kilometers (279 miles) north of Fiji.

In January, Korem, the founder of the Dominion of Melchizedek, a state which only exists in cyberspace, visited the island. He had tried to put together a constitution for the new Republic of Rotuma, but this caused a division among chiefs.

Korem, who also claims to own other states around the world, came to Fiji via Australia on a DOM "diplomatic" passport.

Others behind the move also include part-Rotuman Taraivini Rae Costello, who is believed to be in Australia. She and Korem had distributed a draft constitution and incited the island's 2,200 inhabitants to break away. During their visit, Mr. Korem had promised to fund new hospitals, improve schools and develop other government projects.

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

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