19 May 2004

Fiji court martial deferred

1:25 pm on 19 May 2004

The court martial of another 61 Fiji soldiers charged with serious offences for their role in the May 2000 coup and mutiny has been forced to adjourn.

The soldiers are facing charges of conspiracy to commit treason, treason felony, treason, misprision of treason, wrongful confinement of the Chaudhry government and mutiny.

Defence lawyers Vodo Tuberi and Sevuloni Valenitabua claim that a military court martial has no powers to hear treason charges and want them dropped.

The issue has gone to the Supreme Court which will not hear the case until September and the defence lawyers have threatened to withdraw if the treason court martial goes ahead.

If the treason charges are dropped, the soldiers will only have to answer for wrongful confinement and mutiny.

Army prosecutors want the court martial to go ahead, saying the accused have already been in military custody for three years.

The president of the court martial, Col Ilaisa Kacisolomoni, has adjourned the next hearing till June the 10th to clarify legal issues.