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By Michael Field

WELLINGTON, New Zealand (October 25, 2001 –Agence France-Presse)--New Zealand said Thursday that it would not be lifting sanctions imposed on Fiji until important constitutional issues are resolved.

In a statement, Foreign Minister Phil Goff said he wanted to act collectively with the Commonwealth.

That appears to be a criticism of Australia, which earlier this month lifted its sanctions, just days before asking Fiji to consider taking asylum seekers for processing.

A variety of so-called smart sanctions, including bans on national sporting teams, were imposed following a coup in Fiji last year, which ended the democratic government of Mahendra Chaudhry.

An immigration "black list" of politicians believed to be linked to the coup is still in place and now effects a number of members of the new Parliament democratically elected last month.

The elections were won by Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase, but he refused to honor a part of the constitution, which required him to give places in the Cabinet to leading opposition parties. Chaudhry’s Labour Party was entitled to up to eight places.

Goff noted that issue would now go to the Fiji Court of Appeal in February.

"The Commonwealth has also deferred consideration of Fiji’s suspension from the Councils of the Commonwealth until the Court of Appeal’s decision," he said.

"The Commonwealth clearly believes that an important constitutional issue remains unresolved with the legal challenge to the exclusion of the Fiji Labour Party from the Cabinet, which appears to be contrary to ... the Fiji constitution. New Zealand wishes to act collectively with the Commonwealth.

"New Zealand accepts and welcomes the restoration of democracy in Fiji. It also accepts that Prime Minister Qarase who has the confidence of the majority of Parliament is properly prime minister of Fiji. However, the constitutionality of his Cabinet remains in question. This was confirmed by Fiji’s own Chief Justice, Sir Timoci Tuivaga."

Goff said he had spoken with Fiji Foreign Minister Kaliopate Tavola, telling him New Zealand was keen to see Fiji return to full participation in the activities of the Commonwealth so targeted sanctions could be lifted and relations normalized.

Michael Field New Zealand/South Pacific Correspondent Agence France-Presse E-mail:  Phone: (64 21) 688438 Fax: (64 21) 694035 Website:  Website: 

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