Australia’s Renewed Ties With Fiji Draw Mixed Reactions

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Australia’s Renewed Ties With Fiji Draw Mixed Reactions Fiji trade official worried New Zealand, Australia ‘acted prematurely’

MELBOURNE, Australia (Radio Australia, July 31, 2012) – There's been a mixed response to Australia's decision to re-establish diplomatic ties with Fiji.

The Australian Government announced on Monday it would relax sanctions imposed on Fiji and send a permanent high commissioner to Suva for the first time since 2009.

Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) president Ged Kearney says she is concerned about the new measures but understands they are aimed at sending a clear message that governments should not be run by the military.

"I wouldn't say [Foreign Minister Bob Carr] he's made a mistake because at the moment I would actually like to wait and see if there's any impact," she told Radio Australia's Pacific Beat program.

"But if there's no change in what the military regime is inflicting upon its people, then I think the government should reconsider."

The comments were echoed by the Fiji Islands Confederation of Trade Unions.

General Secretary Attar Singh says he is worried Australia and New Zealand may have acted prematurely.

"Although the regime keeps saying there is no media gagging - you know there is obviously something happening which makes the media think about self-censorship," he said.

"With all this happening and so many other issues to be dealt with, it does worry me that Australia and New Zealand have decided to take the position they have."

[PIR editor’s note: Fiji union leader Felix Anthony has also expressed concern over the recent decision, claiming Canberra and Wellington are "jumping the gun" while the current government of Fiji "has yet to prove the constitution review preceding elections is truly democratic," according to Radio New Zealand International. Meanwhile, New Zealand Fiji Business Council President Rick Reid has expressed some relief that diplomatic relations have resumed, saying Fiji’s "Look North policy" favoring links with China "has really hurt" business. "Fiji seems to be booming and over the last eighteen months we’ve actually lost out on that," he says.]

Fiji Attorney-General Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum disputed the allegation that media is being censored.

He told the ABC that public emergency regulations had in the past given the government the ability to censor news but "that does not exist anymore".

Mr. Sayed-Khaiyum said it was unfortunate it had taken so long for Australia to ease sanctions.

"But of course we've always been willing to engage in all our neighbors," he said.

Shamima Ali, a former Fiji Human Rights Commissioner, said the decision was an "indication that Fiji could be moving in the right direction".

"But for those of us who are living here, there is still a word of caution - Australia and New Zealand have to hold strong to the principles of human rights."

Former Australian foreign minister Alexander Downer has backed the Federal Government's move.

"Just having an endless stand-off, it's not achieving anything," he said.

"There are times when you have to speak to people you don't necessarily approve of, you don't necessarily approve of what they've done, but you give yourself the opportunity to explain your case to them."

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