U.S. ENVOY CHIDES FIJI ARMY CHIEF OVER THREAT

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By Cheerieann Wilson

SUVA, Fiji (FijiSUN, July 12) - The Fiji army was given a blunt warning by the United States Ambassador to Fiji yesterday that any action against a legally elected government would be "unacceptable."

Ambassador David Lyon [speaking at a luncheon of the American Chamber of Commerce Fiji in Suva] warned the military that it should not act against the elected government that has chosen to exercise its constitutional powers in proposing the Reconciliation, Tolerance and Unity Bill to parliament.

"I want to make it very clear that extra-constitutional action against a duly-elected democratic government for exercising its powers in proposing a Bill to Parliament is unacceptable," he said. "It is unfortunate that the military has been dragged into the debate on the Bill. However regrettable this might be in principle, it’s a well known concern for the rule of law is understandable."

[PIR editor’s note: Fiji military commander Commodore Voreqe Bainimarama has reportedly warned the Qarase government that he would take action to stop any attempt to "destabilize" the country, saying the government’s proposed Reconciliation, Tolerance and Unity Bill is leading Fiji towards anarchy. According to the Fiji Times, Bainimarama issued an eight-page statement, which says that the military is ready to act against those who "destabilize" the country. The proposed bill has drawn controversy over its provision for the possible amnesty of prisoners convicted of crimes against the government, including those found guilty of complicity in the 2000 coup.]

Lyon said, however, that the controversial Bill would allow for more problems and instability in the future.

"I don’t think that it is the best idea, it leaves for instability in the future. This is a Bill for Fiji by Fiji. I hope that the Government is giving very careful consideration to the concerns that have been raised by so many civil society leaders around the country," he said.

Among other things Fiji needed to consider for its development is to first maintain democracy and the rule of law.

"There is nothing more important to Fiji’s success than this. Fiji is a functioning democracy. If the Bill goes through, I hope that amendments will come through after it has been contested in the courts," he said.

Lyon said he was confident that if there were court challenges the judiciary would act with objectivity.

"If the Bill passes this judicial scrutiny, it will correctly become the law of the land, with the voting booth then becoming the final arbiter of its support," he said.

Lyon said that Fiji could no longer claim that this was an internal matter that outsiders should not be involved in.

"It is a fallacy to assume that violence, instability or coups are strictly internal matters for the countries experiencing them. Any loss of democratic principles has ripple effects around the world," said Lyon. Lyon said instability in one country often spills over into others.

"I don’t think that it is totally a coincidence that instability here was followed by unrest in neighboring countries," he said. "Often coup-wracked countries are only able to get back on their feet with the help of millions of dollars of aid provided by outside democracies and international organizations. "The outside world is clearly involved so shouldn't it also express a view?"

July 13, 2005

FijiSUN: http://www.sun.com.fj/

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