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SUVA. Fiji (Fiji Times, Oct. 2) – Fiji military commander Voreqe Bainimarama has warned the Methodist Church it will ban all its reverends from going to the Middle East if the church supports the Unity Bill.

And, he said, they would ask individual reverends to state their view on the Bill. Those who back the Bill will not be allowed to travel abroad with the Fiji troops.

"We will not be soft when it comes to the Bill," he warned. "The military has already made its stand clear on the Bill and we will not work with those who support the Bill. And neither will we change our stand.

[PIR editor’s note: Bainimarama has been outspoken in his opposition to a bill proposed by Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase that would offer amnesty to those convicted of complicity in Fiji’s 2000 coup. ]

"When our troops go to the Middle East, church pastors go with them as spiritual leaders. From now on, the military will first find out what their stand is on the Bill. If they are for the Bill, they will not go with the troops. If they are against the Bill, then we will allow them to travel with the troops," he said.

The Commodore said if the church supported the Bill, he would ban all reverends from travelling with the troops and would recruit Pentecostal church ministers.

"I will ask the Assemblies of God church or the All Nation church to travel with the troops if the Methodist Church stands for the Bill," he said.

AOG general secretary Reverend Apete Tanoa said while the church would be grateful for the calling, it would not want to get involved under such circumstances.

"We will not get involved if it is based on that ground. If there are differences between the military and the Methodist Church, then we will not take part in that area."

Methodist Church president Reverend Laisiasa Ratabacaca could not be contacted yesterday.

Assistant general secretary Reverend Tuikilakila Waqairatu declined to comment.

This week, Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer said the army commander had no business in politics and should stick to doing his job — running the military. An angry Commodore Bainimarama hit back, saying he was disappointed with Mr Downer's comments.

"We were never involved in politics. It was the political party that pushed their agenda, the Bill, forward and we only reacted to the consequences the Bill would bring," he said.

Prominent businessman Jim Ah Koy yesterday supported the Commodore, saying Fiji needed brave characters.

"I think he is doing a good job and I really support him for his strong words against Mr Downer," he said. "He is a strong man and we are blessed to have him in office. His priority is national security and that is why he is coming out strong on the Bill."

October 3, 2005

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