SUVA, Fiji (Fiji Times, Mar 20)—The Interim Government has welcomed the outcome of the Pacific Forum Foreign Ministers meeting in Port Vila, Vanuatu, last week.

In a statement, it said the outcome highlighted the need to continue to engage the Interim Government.

The Forum ministers said depending on their willingness to take part, a joint working group of officials from the forum, including Fiji, would engage with the Interim Government on credible mechanisms for returning Fiji to parliamentary democracy.

"We welcome the working group of officials and most certainly do want to engage in the dialogue process through the officials' working group. We are in the process of writing to the Forum Secretariat in this respect, the statement signed by Interim Foreign Minister Ratu Epeli Nailatikau said.

"This path forward, which has been chartered by the forum recognises the acceptance by the forum of the Interim Government and its pivotal role to take Fiji to sustained parliamentary democracy. So the door has not been shut on us," the statement read. It said they believed the engagement of the forum through the proposed working group would provide the necessary information or evidence to the forum on why the Interim Government was saying that elections could only be held after three years.

It said the Interim Government was committed to the holding of parliamentary elections sooner rather than later, as long as the requirements of "holding a fair, free, legally constituted and properly held elections are met".

"We welcome the forum's recommendation that a phased package of financial and technical support be offered to Fiji, including support for the electoral process and assistance for the establishment of a credible and independent anti-corruption commission," it stated. Ousted Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase expressed strong support for the forum's recommendations. Speaking from Mavana Village, on Vanuabalevu, in Lau, last night, Mr Qarase welcomed the Interim Government's positive reaction to the forum.

"I think that the positive reaction will be widely supported but it is returning Fiji to democracy that we will need a definite time for them to carry out the elections but for the time being there is no definite time," he said.

Last Friday, the Pacific Islands Foreign Affairs Ministers endorsed a report condemning Fiji's military coup and demanding a quick return to democracy.

They reiterated their concern on the takeover of the Laisenia Qarase-led Government by the military, saying it was unconstitutional and unacceptable.

A statement sent by the Forum Secretariat on the Forum Foreign Ministers meeting in Port Vila, Vanuatu, said the ministers' endorsed the recommendations of the Eminent Persons' Group (EPG) report as a way forward to the restoration of constitutional and democratic government in Fiji. It said ministers received a presentation from the Interim Government in response to the EPG Report.

Representatives included foreign ministers from around the Pacific.

Fiji was represented by Interim Foreign Affairs Minister Ratu Epeli Nailatikau, Interim Attorney-General Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum and Acting Foreign Affairs Permanent Secretary Isikeli Mataitoga.

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