FORMER FIJI ARMY CHIEF SEEKS REFUGE IN AUSTRALIA

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Col. Baledrokadroka says he isn’t welcome in his country

By Geraldine Coutts and Campbell Cooney

MELBOURNE, Australia (Radio Australia, Nov. 5, 2009) –The former head of Fiji's land forces says he would not be welcome back in his country, and has applied for a protection visa to stay in Australia.

Colonel Jone Baledrokadroka's application, in the wake of retaliatory diplomatic expulsions between Fiji, Australia and New Zealand, is being considered by the Australian Government.

He is a visiting fellow at the Australian National University, in Canberra, where Fiji-born academic Professor Brij Lal - just expelled by the Fiji regime - also works.

The colonel says Lal, a colleague, is "quite well known to be a critic of Bainimarama and a critic of all coups, back to Rabuka."

Commodore Bainimarama "is just sending a message to Australia that he doesn't want anyone butting in on what is happening in Fiji at the moment."

The colonel, who says he had a political argument with interim Prime Minster Frank Bainimarama in 2006, says on present indications he would not be allowed back by the military-backed regime.

"Obviously no. It seems he is hell-bent on a sort of tit-for-tat childish response," Colonel Baledrokadroka told Radio Australia's Pacific Beat.

"He sees anyone who speaks out as an enemy.

"At the moment he is hell-bent on retaliation against Australia and New Zealand.

"Any people - I suppose myself . . . there is a heavy media censorship in in Fiji. Obviously he can use that to throw anyone out of the country."

His argument three years ago with his fellow officer was over Colonel Baledrokadroka's belief that Fiji's military should be apolitical.

"He wanted obviously to politicise the military as it is at the moment."

He said that the present situation was, as Professor Lal had said, that the military "is effectively running the country in all departments."

Professor Lal has been expelled from Fiji for commenting on the latest diplomatic dispute between Australia, New Zealand and Fiji.

He was detained by Fiji's military on Tuesday afternoon in relation to public comments he made about Fiji's expulsion of Australia and New Zealand's heads of diplomatic mission.

He says he was interrogated by the military for three hours, and told that his views were uninformed and unwelcome by Fiji's military-backed regime.

Professor Lal was then told he was unwelcome in Fiji and had 24 hours to leave the country.

Professor Lal is an Australian citizen, and a leading academic and researcher on Fiji's political history.

In 1997, he was involved in drafting the country's new constitution.

He said he hopes to return in the future.

"I hope that next year some time, when things settle down, when emotions have cooled, that I will be able to visit.

"I mean, I am a scholar, I have devoted 30 years of my life writing about Fiji.

"Right now I have a book project on the squatter settlement in Fiji, so I hope this is a temporary setback."

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