U.S., COMMONWEALTH URGE EARLY ELECTIONS IN FIJI

By Brenca Ragi

SUVA, Fiji (Fiji Times, March 1) – The United States has urged Fiji’s interim government to return the country quickly to democratic rule and for military commander, Commodore Voreqe Bainimarama, to withdraw from the Government.

U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Glyn Davies warns that the longer this administration takes to return Fiji to democratic rule, the tougher [the U.S.] stand would be.

Speaking to the local media through digital video conferencing from Washington, D.C. yesterday, Mr Davies said if the United States government did not see any changes in Fiji, it was only going to make things more difficult.

"I wouldn't advise the Interim Government, Commodore Bainimarama and his colleagues to wait us out and to wait and watch the clock and watch the calendar and hope and pray come 2010, bygones will be bygones; that's not going to happen. We're only going to get tougher as time goes by. What we're looking at is a change to the status quo, rapid progress back towards a legitimately elected government," he said.

Meanwhile, Radio New Zealand International reports that Commonwealth Secretary-General Don McKinnon says Fiji’s military ruler should return the country to democracy earlier than he plans.

[PIR editor’s note: Commander Bainimarama has said he expects to remain interim prime minister until elections can be held, which he said would be in 2010.]

Mr McKinnon says Bainimarama does not need three years to prepare for fresh elections. "Clearly from the information I’m getting from within Fiji, elections could be held, certainly within twelve months, and you would expect to see a comprehensive and updated electoral roll."]

On the issue of Fiji sending a team of soldiers to participate in the Multinational Forces and Observers mission in the next few days, of which the U.S. Government is partly funding the operation, Mr Davies said they would not try to stop Fiji from participating because Fiji was [already] involved in the United Nations multi-lateral missions.

He said the United States could make its views known but it was a more complex challenge than that.

He said part of the reason was because Fiji provided peacekeeping missions to places like Sinai for decades and the U.S. valued Fiji's contribution to international peacekeeping operations.

"This is where we're going to draw our own policy line," he said. "We're not going to support new peacekeeping but we're not at this stage going to reopen peace operations already underway."

He said they were also governed by their laws which state that the U.S. would not fund any militaries that took part in coups until democracy was restored.

"We continue to call for the military, including Commodore Bainimarama to immediately and unconditionally withdraw from the government," he said. "We also call on the RFMF to put an end to ongoing human rights abuses in Fiji."

Mr Davies said the U.S. sanctions against Fiji would remain until it is determined that a government is democratically elected. Military spokesman, Major Neumi Leweni said President Ratu Josefa Iloilo had mandated them to ensure that there was a proper electoral system in place and that the socio-economic and political condition was conducive to the holding of general elections.

He said they noted with interest the U.S. Government's recognition of the successful participation of Fiji's soldiers in peacekeeping missions. Major Leweni refused to comment further.

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