FIJI CHIEF DEFENDS PRESENCE AT 2000 MUTINY

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SUVA. Fiji (Fiji Times, Jan. 27) – Fiji Lands Minister and Tui Cakau Ratu Naiqama Lalabalavu yesterday told the Labasa Court he entered the Sukanaivalu Barracks during the instability following the 2000 coup to ensure that law and order was upheld.

He told magistrate Sunil Kumar that the late Tui Labasa, Ratu Joseva Ritova Qomate, had traditionally invited him to go the barracks to ensure that nothing unlawful was done.

Lalabalavu maintained that Ratu Joseva had relied on him and the three other chiefs charged alongside him to maintain law and order.

"I had no choice as a chief. Chiefs cannot ignore and shy away from (crises such as these)," he said in court.

The other chiefs charged with unlawful assembly are Ratu Viliame Rovabokola, Ratu Rokodewala Niumataiwalu, and Senator Ratu Josefa Dimuri.

They have all pleaded not guilty.

The courtroom and courthouse was packed with people under heavy police security.

Lalabalavu said he first knew of the takeover of the military barracks during a meeting on July 4 with landowners in Namuavoivoi Village in Bua.

"I was a consultant and I was conducting a meeting with the landowners when villagers heard over the radio that the Sukanaivalu Barracks had been taken over," he said.

He returned to Labasa that same day, arriving at his home at 9 p.m. Lalabalavu said the next day, a delegation from the Tui Labasa presented yaqona [kava] at his residence, asking that he go to the army camp at Vatunibale.

He said the Tui Labasa's herald had since died.

"In his yaqona presentation, he said that the Tui Labasa was seeking my assistance to maintain law and order," Lalabalavu said.

Defense lawyer Kitione Vuataki asked Lalabalavu to explain to the court the role of the herald of Tui Labasa.

"The herald is under the traditional Fijian authority of the Tui Labasa. He undertakes traditional duties that he or she has been summoned to carry out for the Tui Labasa," he said.

Lalabalavu told the court that the herald, in his yaqona presentation, asked him to go to the army camp to maintain stability.

"When I arrived at the military camp people had already gathered," he said.

He said that after the meeting at the army camp, he had a few bowls of kava before going home.

Lalabalavu said apart from the Tui Labasa's delegation, there were other delegations that arrived at his home to ask him to go to the army camp.

The court heard that former Divisional Commander Northern Samuela Matakibau sent a delegation from the police.Lalabalavu said that a military delegation sent by Lieutenant Colonel Maciu Cerewale asked that he be at the camp to clear some matters.

Magistrate Kumar adjourned the case to today with the defense expected to continue submissions.

January 27, 2005

Fiji Times: http://www.fijitimes.com/

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