AUSTRALIA ARMED FIJI MERCENARIES BOUND FOR IRAQ

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SUVA, Fiji (Fijilive, June 25) - Australia's Defence Minister Brendan Nelson has revealed that his country had given the Fiji military weapons, protective equipment and more than 350,000 rounds of ammunition so it could send troops to Iraq three years ago.

Nelson said all weapons plus some of the protective equipment had been returned.

Fiji army spokesman, Major Neumi Leweni when contacted said he would comment tomorrow.

According to Nelson ammunition and other supplies remain with the Fijian contingent inside Iraq, serving as part of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Iraq (UNAMI).

Australia officially suspended all defense cooperations with Fiji following the military coup last December.

It also suspended much of its Fijian aid program and like its neighbors New Zealand imposed travel restrictions on the interim regime.

Nelson added that supplies lent to Fiji remained Australian property, to be returned when no longer needed or when Fiji ended involvement in Iraq.

Responding to a question on notice from Opposition foreign affairs spokesman Robert McClelland, Nelson said the Australian Defence Force provided a substantial amount of equipment to the Fijian military as part of Operation Valient.

Operation Valient is listed as dormant, but could be reactivated if required.

"Stores were loaned to the Republic of Fiji Military Forces at the request of the Fiji Government to assist Fiji to contribute safely and effectively to UNAMI," he said.

Nelson said ammunitions lent to the Fijian military included almost 175,000 rounds of 5.56mm ammunition, 60,000 rounds of 9mm ammunition, almost 17,000 rounds of 7.62mm ammunition plus 500 rounds of 12-gauge shotgun ammunition.

Also lent were 24 Heckler and Koch MP5 sub-machine guns, three Benelli shotguns, 24 Browning pistols and two flare guns. All have now been returned, along with an ambulance.

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