FIJI POLICE, MILITARY NOT ABOVE THE LAW

Editorial

Fiji Sun

SUVA, Fiji (June 8) – The Fiji Police Force has an enviable record in solving serious crime. Murderers, rapists, violent robbers and the like run a far greater risk of arrest and punishment here than they do in many other countries.

However, when it comes to investigating serious crime involving the military, the record is not so encouraging.

A day after the three Counter Revolutionary Warfare Unit soldiers were allegedly kicked and beaten to death in the wake of the November, 2000 mutiny attempt, the police declared that they were treating the incident as murder. Presumably they still are.

Nearly seven years later, however, no charges have been laid and the families of the murdered men still do not know what happened to their loved ones while allegedly in military custody. No file has been lodged with the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) and none appears likely to be.

Former police commissioner Andrew Hughes said the police had been unable to interview witnesses and suspects because they were prevented from doing so by the military - a charge strongly denied by the Republic of Fiji Military Forces.

Whatever the truth of the matter may be the fact remains that the killers of these men are still at large, a walking affront to our system of justice. At least in those two tragic cases, reports of the investigations are with the DPP who will decide whether charges are to be laid

Things have gone slightly more satisfactorily in the investigations into the deaths of Nimilote Verebasaga, who died while in military custody and Sakiusa Rabaka who died after allegedly being beaten while in joint police and military custody.

In both cases a report on the police investigations has been lodged with the DPP's Office which will now decide what if any charges are to be laid.

This is the state of the inquiry some six months after those dreadful deaths.

Now Tevita Malasabe has died in police custody. The police are treating his death as a murder investigation and the acting commissioner has given his word that no special treatment will be offered and that, if anything, the investigation will be all the more rigorous and transparent simply because the death took place while Mr Malasabe was in police hands.

Mr Tikotikoca's pledge is welcome. A very experienced community police officer, he would be well aware of the unease that exists in society at large over the recent and not so recent unsolved deaths.

He would also be aware that the investigations into the deaths of Mr Verebasaga, Mr Rabaka and now Mr Malasabe are widely regarded as acid tests of the police force's commitment to solving crimes that may involve members of the disciplined services - including their own.

In the case of Mr Malasabe, however, the more information that comes to light, the more questionable becomes the official account of what took place during the victim's last 12 hours in this world. Remember, this poor man died in police custody. Records and witnesses should be readily available.

Fiji and the world are watching.

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