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SUVA, Fiji (Fiji Times, Mar. 15) - Instability will always be a problem in Fiji if the fear and insecurity of Fijian people over their land and culture is not resolved, says Vice President Ratu Joni Madraiwiwi.

Ratu Joni made the comment in Suva when he opened the Fiji National Consultations on Global Partnerships for the Prevention of Armed Conflicts.

He urged participants to bear in mind the fear and insecurity of Fijians when formulating initiatives to deflect future conflict.

"This is a subject I dwell on repeatedly because while I do not share them, I am sufficiently Fijian to appreciate the depth of these emotions," he said.

Ratu Joni said such fears were irrational because Fijians had nothing to fear.

"Most of the land is theirs and cannot be alienated. They comprise more than half the population and their customary and traditional rights are protected by the Constitution," he said. "Nevertheless, they are fearful and insecure. They fear losing their identity, language, traditions and culture."

He said Fijians fear being left behind in a competitive environment where they have no time to adjust.

"If it is not understood and assuaged, instability will be our constant companion," he said.

Ratu Joni said land remained an intractable issue and that the inability to resolve the tenure problem might spell the end of the sugar industry.

"At present, the debate over land starts and ends with the fact that Fijians own most of it. In order to break the impasse, alternatives must be found to make tenancies viable and attractive to lessees."

He said if no alternative is found, the agricultural sector, a source of livelihood for a significant segment of the population, would be compromised.

"Fijians need to ask themselves if the status quo in respect of native land is adequate. I make no proposal but merely raise these matters for reflection."

Ratu Joni said another cause for division is religion.

"This is helped by the tendency of the two major races to belong to different religions."

It changed when elements in the Methodist Church collaborated with others to impose a Christian State.

"A similar refrain was sung in 2000. The advent of evangelical denominations emanating from the U.S. evoked a less tolerant dimension to the work of some Christian churches," he said.

"Politics is the starting point for conflict. Our situation is not completely of our making. While one may decry communalism, it is a tough beast to subdue."

Lawyer Isireli Fa echoed similar sentiments, saying the coups were carried out against a backdrop of fear and insecurity.

"I don’t believe Fijians are racists," he said.

He said the present system, inherited from colonial days, is not relevant or effective.

"We are the victims of our own history. We need to formulate a new strategy to move forward. If we carry on under the same system, we will have another coup," Fa said.

March 16, 2005

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