Sunday, May 15, 2011

[pima.nius] FIJI: Former top military officer declared fugitive

11:43 AM |

Title – 7453 FIJI: Former top military officer declared fugitive
Date – 15 May 2011
Byline – None
Origin – Pacific Media Watch
Source – Sydney Morning Herald/NZPA, 15/5/11
Copyright – SMH/NZPA
Status – Unabridged
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FORMER TOP FIJI OFFICER DECLARED FUGITIVE

SUVA (Sydney Morning Herald/NZPA/Pacific Media Watch):  A former chief-of-staff of the Fijian military, Lieutenant-Colonel Ratu Tevita Uluilakeba Mara, has fled to Tonga and been declared a fugitive by Fiji's interim government.

Mara, who is a son of the late Fijian president Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara, was declared a fugitive under Fiji's Extradition Act in a move expected to have diplomatic and military ramifications.

Along with another high-ranking commander, Pita Driti, Mara was charged a week ago with mutiny and accused of trying to overthrow the military government of Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama.

Mara is also facing charges of sedition.

Bainimarama confirmed on Sunday there had been an "illegal extraction" of Mara early this week in international waters by a Royal Tongan Navy patrol boat.

In Wellington, New Zealand's TV One reported that Mara, who has strong Tongan connections, was now "under the kingdom's protection".

"When I was rescued by the Tongan navy, I asked to be brought to Nuku'alofa, where with the sure protection of King George's government I shall be able to tell the truth, without fear of retribution, about the tragic oppression that stifles my beloved land," Mara was quoted as saying.

Bainimarama told FijiLive that he intended to communicate with his Tongan counterpart within the next 24 hours about the "breaches".

"(Mara's) fleeing Fiji now makes him a fugitive under the Extraction Act," Bainimarama said.

"The DPP (Director of Public Prosecution) will present various documentation to the courts tomorrow morning to commence extradition of this fugitive."

Fijian police had started investigations to find out who facilitated the fleeing of "an accused person" and who conspired to "breach Fiji's sovereignty".

"This is unfortunate and shows a fundamental disloyalty to Fiji, Fijian laws and the Fijian people," Bainimarama said.

A research fellow and lecturer at the University of Canterbury, Dr Malakai Kolomatangi, warned TV One about the "diplomatic and military ramifications" of the various developments.

"I think this needs to be settled and resolved quickly," Kolomatangi said.

"We are perhaps looking at two major powers in terms of influence in the Pacific going head-to-head."

The diplomatic situation between Tonga and Fiji have become tense in recent months, with both laying claim to the Minerva Reef which lies between the two countries.

* Comment on this item pmediawa@aut.ac.nz 

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