FIJI MARKS A YEAR FROM LATEST COUP STILL NOT KNOWING WHAT REALLY WENT ON

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By Michael Field

SUVA, Fiji Islands (May 17, 2001 – Agence France-Presse)---It might have seemed a simple piece of political terrorism when failed businessman George Speight and his band of special forces soldiers seized Fiji’s Parliament a year ago Saturday but in the deadly, devious world of politics here no one can claim to yet know what really happened.

Speight is now in custody on Nukulau Island awaiting a treason jail that may be doomed to fail. By the end of the year he’s rated as having a reasonable chance of membership of the very Parliament he first violated on May 19 last year.

The first anniversary Saturday follows Monday’s 14th anniversary of military strongman Sitiveni Rabuka’s first coup in 1987.

Although the country remains in a severe economic and political depression, there appears to be no extra security in place for the day -- which is also the second anniversary of the election of the first ethnic Indian prime minister, Mahendra Chaudhry.

What is abundantly clear is that the events of May 19 and since had nothing to do with Fiji’s racial split; 51 percent indigenous Fijian, 44 percent Indian. If it was anything more than a raw grab for political power, it was an intra-Fijian battle for the spoils of Fiji’s riches, largely created by the Indians.

The facts as known so far are this.

Last May 19 a pro-nationalist march took place in Suva Friday morning. Trouble was not expected, but unusually there was little in the way of police presence.

About five kilometers away Parliament was in session when Speight, supported by members of the special Counter Revolutionary Warfare Unit (CRW), burst in and seized the building, taking the government politicians hostage. He was to hold them for 56 days, during that time beating up Chaudhry.

When news of the seizure reached the marchers in the city they began looting and burning, unhindered by the police or the military who were never called out.

At the time and since it has been held that Speight, supported by CRW leader Iliosoni Lingari, was the coup’s leader, motivated by his hatred of Indian rule and the 1997 multi-racial coup. Other motives were also said to include Speight’s commercial interests and desire to control lucrative mahogany timber contracts.

But in the year since its plain that nothing was that simple.

Speight was either an opportunist lunching a queue-jumping coup or the cat’s paw for somebody else.

Attention is now focused on Rabuka, who had lost the 1999 elections to Chaudhry, and on Police Commissioner Isikia Savua.

"The people in Nukulau... none of those people came up with the idea to plot a coup," one of Fiji’s top soldiers, Lieutenant Colonel Viliame Seruvakula, is claiming. "They are men in the middle.

"People who came up with the idea are still walking the streets, working and getting paid today."

He has quit Fiji to join the New Zealand Army and last week he gave the New Zealand Police a statement on who were the real coup plotters.

Sources told AFP that Seruvakula has said that a successful coup would have seen Rabuka named president and Savua would have been prime minister.

The problem appears to be that it went wrong quickly. Chaudhry did not surrender his powers and the then President Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara retained, at least for a time, the loyalty of the army. So what passed for a hostage situation then set in for 56 days at Parliament, although supporters and media were free to come and go.

Mara recently spoke out on who was behind the coup, saying that on May 21 Rabuka and Savua came to his office.

"That Sunday morning, as soon as they sat down I said ‘you two, I want you to know’ and I pointed at Rabuka and Savua, ‘you had a hand in this thing’."

He noted that the CRW had trained on Rabuka’s farm in the weeks before the coup and that within half an hour of Speight walking into Parliament Rabuka had telephoned Government House to say he was ready to lead again.

Mara pointed to the strange lack of police on the day of the march, or around Parliament.

But Mara also has motives.

On May 29 the military deposed him, shunting him out on a naval vessel to his remote island home.

This then saw ancient rivals, the Cakobaus, play a key role in the situation in Parliament, and seemingly Mara’s rivals were in the ascendancy.

Mara too has a personal and mutually reciprocated dislike of Rabuka, and at age 82, having been humiliated by his deposal from the presidency, there is a sense of squaring the accounts here.

Mara’s private secretary Jo Browne has noted that the army that was protecting Government House mysteriously disappeared on the night of May 29.

"In hindsight it was all stage managed. By whom I am not quite sure."

The answers to it all may not emerge from Speight’s treason trial.

What’s called a "preliminary inquiry" begins May 29 in the Suva Magistrate’s Court but it’s likely to be held behind closed doors with the media barred. The state’s case, although appearing to be strong, is known to be in trouble and senior members of the judiciary have been shown to have been involved in the deposal of Mara.

Somebody here knows the truth -- but they’re not telling.

Michael Field New Zealand/South Pacific Correspondent Agence France-Presse E-mail: afp.nz@clear.net.nz  Phone: (64 21) 688438 Fax: (64 21) 694035 Website: http://www.afp.com/english/ 

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