NINE ALLEGED FIJI MUTINEERS RELEASED ON BAIL

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SUVA. Fiji (Fiji Times, Dec. 24) – After five years in custody and away from their families, nine soldiers awaiting trial on mutiny charges in Fiji were released on bail by Justice Jiten Singh.

The nine rejoined their families as people made final preparations for Christmas.

Barbadoes Mills, 38, Ulaiasi Namulo, 34, Lagilagi Vosabeci, 45, Feoko Gadekibua, 27, Daniele Koroi Tavalea 41, Usaia Rokobigi 38, Peni Bitu, 41, Eparama Waqatairewa, 34, and Kalisito Vuki, 43, could not hide their joy after Justice Jiten Singh allowed them bail.

He said the status of the nine soldiers could be otherwise decided by the convening officer of the Military Court Martial if it was convened before they re-appeared in the High Court on January 13 for a review of their release conditions.

Justice Singh also gave strict bail conditions for the men. He told them to surrender their passports, stay at the addresses handed down by the court and to report to the police station and police posts set out by the court between 12 to 3pm daily.

They were told not to make any contacts either personal or by telephone among themselves, with military colleagues and officers of the court martial. The army said it was disappointed with the Ministry of Home Affairs for prolonging the commissioning of a judge advocate for the court martial.

"This is what the military has been saying all along. We have made efforts to proceed with the court martial but the Ministry of Home Affairs is prolonging the process," said Captain Neumi Leweni. No comments could be obtained from the minister nor the chief executive of the Ministry.

Vosabeci, surrounded by his wife and two daughters at their Kinoya home in Nasinu, said he was glad to be home after spending four Christmas away from his family. Wife Paulini said they were not expecting him home but Christmas would be extra special.

The soldiers had spent five years in remand moving from the military detention center in Nabua, to Korovou Prison, then to the Togalevu naval base.

Defence lawyer Sevuloni Valenitabua said he was glad his clients had been served justice.

Mr Valenitabua submitted before Justice Singh yesterday that the soldiers were unlawfully detained which was in breach of their constitutional rights.

He said his clients had been remanded from August 16 this year when their appeal case was quashed in the Court of Appeal. They were told to be re-tried in a court martial.

"The military re-arrested my clients to appear before the court martial and as of today the court martial still has not proceeded because the Judge Advocate has not been commissioned yet. And when the court martial is going to proceed it is any one's guess," Mr Valenitabua told the court.

"If the Republic of the Fiji Military Forces and the Government cannot come to an agreement on the commissioning of a Judge Advocate and prolong the sitting of the Court Martial then my clients should not be penalised."

He told the court the charge faced by the men was serious and they would not pose any threat to the nation when released.

Military lawyer Major Kitione Tuinaosara said the men did not show any remorse for their actions during the November 2000 mutiny.

"Mutiny is a serious offence. No loyal soldier will take his gun and point them at their superiors or fellow soldiers," said Major Tuinaosara.

Fiji Council of Social Services executive director Hassan Khan said it would be a good Christmas for the soldiers' families because they would be reunited after a long time.

He said nothing had eventuated for a long time on the soldiers' case and it was about time people got on with their lives.

Vosabeci, one of the nine released, said it had been five long years before he could spend Christmas again with his wife and three children.

December 25, 2005

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

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