CONFUSION OVER STATUS OF FIJI TROOPS IN IRAQ

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SUVA. Fiji (Fiji Times, Aug. 30) – The recent withdrawal of United Nations support for Fiji troops in Iraq does not necessarily mean that those serving there will be brought back to Fiji.

However, the move has forced the Fiji Military Forces to put on hold the next deployment of its troops, said army spokesman Captain Neumi Leweni.

"It's not really a pullout by our troops as reported in the media," he said. "The initial deployment which was supposed to be going to Iraq has now been put on hold.

[PIR editor’s note: According to Radio Australia, the Fiji army has announced it will not send an additional 90 soldiers to Iraq next month unless the government properly equips them. The soldiers have been training in preparation for deployment to Basra, in southern Iraq, and the northern city of Irbil, at the request of the United Nations, RA reports. The story quotes army spokesman, Lieutenant Colonel Orisi Rabukawaqa, as saying the soldiers need equipment such as night vision goggles, protective jackets, respirators and helmets – estimated to cost $US2 million. He said if the soldiers are not provided with adequate equipment, the army will pull out of the mission. Fiji's cabinet has endorsed the deployment of the another 90 soldiers to Iraq in addition to the 134 currently serving in the UN assistance mission in Baghdad. ]

The cost of sending troops to Iraq was estimated at FJ$1.9 million (US$1.1 million), said Capt Leweni.

"That money was to be used to buy equipment such as bulletproof jackets for the troops."

Last week, army commander Commodore Voreqe Bainimarama confirmed that the United Nations would be withdrawing support for Fiji troops in Iraq. He referred all questions on the matter to Ministry of Home Affairs chief executive Doctor Lesi Korovavala.

Mr Korovavala was not in a position to comment yesterday. Faxed questions to his office remained unanswered.

Meanwhile, soldiers who were to be deployed to Iraq continued their training at the military barracks despite the uncertainty surrounding the trip.

The Ministry of Home Affairs had said earlier that Fiji soldiers would be deployed to Iraq on the condition that they completed the required basic training and were well-equipped to endure the rigours of staying awake and alive in troubled Iraq.

A lot of former Fijian soldiers are at the moment employed as security guards for private companies in the troubled cities in Iraq such as Mosul and Baghdad.

The other group of Fijians in Iraq are members of the British Army who were deployed to the place better known as Babylon in the Old Testament.

August 31, 2005

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

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