BACKGROUND: THE FIJI MAY 19TH ATTEMPTED COUP

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Mesake Koroi Deputy Editor, Fiji’s Daily Post

SUVA, Fiji Islands (April 16, 2001 – Fiji’s Daily Post)---On Monday, May 14 last year, a church service was held at the military chapel at Delainabua. The service was to commemorate yet again Sitiveni Rabuka’s military coup 14 years ago. I say "yet again," because every year since 1987, Rabuka and members of the Counter Revolution Warfare Unit of the Fiji Military Forces, have been commemorating the illegal overthrow of Dr. Bavadra’s government.

At that Monday May 14, 1999 church service, Sitiveni Rabuka spoke to an attentive CRW Unit about how the Israelites were taken to Egypt as slaves. He spoke at length about how the Israelites suffered at the hands of the Egyptians. And he related how God spoke to Moses in the wilderness and commanded him to lead the Israelites back to the Promised Land under his guidance.

Rabuka likened the sufferings of the Israelites to the situation back here in Fiji, throwing the challenge as to who would be the Moses that would lead the Fijians away from the bondage of slavery they were encountering. Four days later at 10:00 am on Friday morning May 19, several armed members of the CRW led by failed businessman George Speight, stormed parliament and kidnapped Prime Minister Mahendra Chaudhry’s Coalition government.

That action threw our country into it’s worst ever political crisis which still adversely affects us today. It may have been just an innocent message and of course there is the possibility that Rabuka is just as innocent as the message he was relaying. And who knows, it could have been God inspiring, depending on which side of the coin you are reading.

As I said last week my guru "Daucina" returned from Hong Kong two weeks ago with a closet filled with interesting tales about George Speight’s coup. According to "Daucina" following the May 14 commemorative church service at Delainabua, the CRW Unit that kidnapped Tu Ma’s (Mahendra Chaudhry’s) government went to Nukulau Island for an exercise.

The boys, if I am allowed to refer to them as such, had no idea that they were to kidnap the government. Even after the coup was executed they still believed it was just a military exercise. It was after the third day of the coup, when the supposedly military back up did not materialize, that the boys realized that something had gone wrong.

But to understand the military’s involvement better, we have to go back to November of 1999. Six months after Tu Ma assumed power, a group of politicians -- some failed and some sitting parliamentarians -- met and the germ of an idea for the possible overthrow of Tu Ma’s government was hatched.

The coup plot continued to gather momentum but the biggest hurdle was how to bring the army on their side. According to "Daucina" the coup plotters managed to solicit the support of an army top brass who attended several meetings. He later acted as a go between the various parties involved in the planning.

Members of the CRW top guns were committed. But their commitment was dependent on the military chief, Commodore Frank Bainimarama, giving the green light. However, the civilian coup plotters were getting impatient. Big money was at stake and they could not hold on any further.

But the problem was that Commodore Bainimarama was away overseas. In their desperation and hunger for power, the CRW top guns lied to their men that Commodore Bainimarama had agreed to back the coup. It was here that the plot began to go astray. In their desperation to get the backing of the military the plotters approached "na Qase" Major Ilisoni Ligairi, the former SAS commando who set up the CRW unit, for help.

Again they lied to "na Qase" that Commodore Bainimarama had approved the overthrow of Tu Ma’s government. It was not until Ligairi reported to army headquarters that "the eagle had landed" that he realized that something was not right. He was questioned at length about what they had done and told in no uncertain terms that what he did was wrong. The army had nothing to do with it and that it was not going to back the coup.

But there was a division among the ranking officers in the upper echelons of the army. Some sympathized with the objectives of the coup. But it was the Commanding Officer of the 3FIR Lieutenant Colonel Viliame Seruvakula who stood his ground and threatened to lock up Ligairi and any other officer involved in the coup. That changed the situation, perhaps for the better. That was on Friday morning May 19.

But on the evening of Thursday May 18, along the shores of the Maritime School at Vatuwaqa, stood three CRW senior officers. A signal was sent through to Nukulau Island where the CRW unit to carry out the coup had been training. Not long after that, a rubber dinghy pulled up and a lone soldier came ashore.

Here the message was passed on that the "lovo" would be ready at 10:00 am the next day. Again the lie was repeated that Commodore Bainimarama would back the coup. On the dawn of Friday morning, the CRW unit dinghy came ashore at Vatuwaqa where they were met by George Speight and the three senior officers. The rest of course is history.

For additional reports from The Post-Courier, go to PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT News/Information Links: Newspapers/The Post-Courier (Papua New Guinea).

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