1 Feb 2003

Fiji pro-coup party criticises sentences on Labasa mutineers

6:35 am on 1 February 2003

A partner in Fiji's coalition government, the pro-coup Conservative Alliance Matanitu Vanua Party, has criticised the jail sentences handed down on 56 soldiers who staged a mutiny at the Labasa barracks during the May 2000 coup.

The two officers who led the mutiny were sentenced to life imprisonment while the others were jailed for terms ranging from four to ten years.

A party spokesman, Josataki Vula, says the sentences were biased because the panel of military judges did not take into account mitigating factors such as statements of support from church pastors and the Labasa business community.

Mr Vula says the court martial regarded military law as supreme and individual rights were not respected.

He says the court martial also failed to consider the fact that the 56 soldiers had sought traditional forgiveness from those they had offended and this had been accepted.

The Conservative Alliance spokesman says the sentences are too harsh compared with the minimal sentences handed down to those guilty of the Suva mutiny when many lives were lost.

The party questions what has happened to the rights of the indigenous people and their traditional beliefs in forgiveness and reconciliation.