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By Imran Ali

SUVA, Fiji Islands (December 24, 2001 – Fiji Times)---The army is preparing to form an elite squad similar to the disbanded Counter Revolutionary Warfare (CRW) unit.

Although details of the proposed set-up are not clear, Army Commander Commodore Voreqe Bainimarama has confirmed the setting-up of the unit.

According to a senior military officer who did not wish to be named, selection for potential soldiers from the military to be included in the new unit has already begun. The exact number has not been finalized but the army is looking at a minimum of 30 who would be trained by experienced personnel who had had extensive training abroad.

The unit would be prepared to handle emergencies such as airline hijackings, coups and other illegal acts beyond the control of police or ordinary soldiers. It would have special forces capabilities similar to the special forces in the United States or the British Army's SAS and would be part of the 3FIR unit.

"In fact the selection started since the court martial of the 15 former CRW soldiers began. But it will take some time before the required numbers are finalized,'' said the RFMF source.

"Selection will include personnel from all the army departments who will then undergo intensive, specialized training in that field."

Military spokesman Captain Ned Taito said the unit would be like a rifle company within 3FIR, with a quick reaction capability to face various situations, which may include anti-terrorism.

"A selection course to asses the suitability of applicants for service with the 3FIR company is being conducted and successful candidates will face further training that will continue into the new year," he said.

The former CRW unit was disbanded after the May 19 coup last year.

Timing of formation unfortunate

The timing of the establishment of a specialized company of troops within the 3FIR of the army is unfortunate because it can be seen to be a spur of the moment decision.

Former Prime Minister Sitiveni Rabuka said apart from the timing, there was a need for such a team in the military.

"We live in a borderless world where terrorist and those trying to destabilize the government are not in uniform,'' he said.

Mr. Rabuka said the squad had to keep itself abreast with domestic and local issues and work hand-in-hand with other government intelligence agencies.

"But the timing is rather unfortunate because the commander may be seen as not able to make up his mind, as the former CRW unit was disbanded and now this has come up.

"It may seem to be a spur of the moment thing," he said.

Opposition Leader Prem Singh said the establishment of the rifle company within the 3FIR is an attempt by the government to protect itself from rogue elements.

"Each successive government has tried to protect itself by using the military. What different role will this unit play in comparison to other similar units set up before?'"

The leader of the United Generals Party, Mick Beddoes, said the army had more pressing issues to deal with.

Ofa Duncan, leader of the New Labour Unity Party, said the squad had to be made up of professional and skilled people.

For additional reports from the Fiji Times, go to PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT News/Information Links: Newspapers/Fiji Times.

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