FIJI IMMUNITY DECREE IS ILLEGAL, CLAIMS LAWYER

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SUVA, Fiji Islands (August 7, 2001 - Fiji Times/The Sun/Pasifik Nius)---Fiji's caretaker regime has no power to guarantee immunity to loyalist soldiers involved in the death of Counter-Revolutionary Warfare Unit members in last year's mutiny, claims lawyer Tevita Fa, the Fiji Times reports.

The Suva lawyer has questioned the recently gazetted immunity decree, which gives the disciplined forces immunity from prosecution.

"This kind of legislation can only be done by Parliament and this current administration has no power to pass this kind of law," he said.

Fa is representing the widows of slain CRW soldiers - allegedly taken from their homes and beaten to death by loyalist troops.

"The Constitution is the supreme law of the land and this kind of law is against the Constitution," he said.

"We're not filing a separate action to challenge the validity of the decree because it will all come out in court when the cases are heard."

Fa, who is representing 15 CRW soldiers detained for security reasons, said he would pursue action against the military for compensation to his clients despite the signing of the new decree by the President, Ratu Josefa Iloilo.

The Sun reports that the Citizens Constitutional Forum has challenged the use of section 85 of the Constitution as grounds for proclaiming the decree.

The decree allows immunity for members of the military and police, and covers the period between June 13, 2000, until the formation of the new elected government.

This was "particularly worrying" at a time when investigations and possible prosecutions were being undertaken over "certain acts that the military had committed during the emergency period from July 23 last year", said forum executive director Rev. Akuila Yabaki.

"Granting a further decree for immunity will do little to maintain the already damaged credibility of the Fiji Military Forces."

* The general election will take place August 25-September 1.

Title -- 3311 POLITICS: Immunity decree for Fiji military 'illegal' Date -- 7 August 2001 Byline – None Origin -- Pasifik Nius Source -- Fiji Times/The Sun, 7/8/1 Copyright -- FT/TS Status – Unabridged

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