30 Jun 2004

Fiji High Court hears more prosecution testimony in treason trial

10:28 am on 30 June 2004

The Suva High Court has been told that two of the accused in the treason trial of six men including Fiji's vice president, Jope Seniloli were warned that what they were about to do was illegal.

The Daily Post reports that this was revealed by state witness, Ratu Tua'kitau Cokanauto, who was a member of the Chaudhry coalition government at the time of the May 2000 coup but was not taken hostage.

Ratu Tua'kitau said after being informed that Suva was in flames, he sought a meeting with George Speight who said he did not know what direction they were going in.

Ratu Tua'kitau said at a meeting later that night he was asked to join the administration Speight was trying to set up.

He said he told fellow members of the Fijian Association Party, Peceli Rinakama and Viliame Volavola, that what they were about to do was illegal.

Ratu Tua'kitau said later another of the accused, Ratu Rakuita Vakalalabure, told him that he would be given the foreign affairs portfolio instead of Fijian affairs.

He said he left for home to get dressed for the swearing in but did not return.

The court also heard that the prime minister deposed in the May 2000 coup, Mahendra Chaudhry, was not told that indigenous MPs of the Fiji Labour Party had formed a security committee.

The Fiji Sun reports that this was part of the evidence given by the Labour Party president, Jokapeci Koroi.

Mrs Koroi said some indigenous Fijian MPs with experience of the 1987 Rabuka coups had formed the security committee with the aim of keeping surveillance on developments.

Mr Chaudhry had earlier said he did not know of the committee and Mrs Koroi said he was not officially told but people may have talked to him about it.

She said when the coup took place, it was Ratu Rakuita Vakalalabure who had come to her office and asked her to vacate it because, in his words, "We are taking over."

Mrs Koroi said when told to leave parliament the next day, she said she would not leave without her hostage colleagues but was forced to do so by an angry George Speight.

On trial are vice president Seniloli who is charged with taking an illegal oath to commit a capital offence and another of engaging in a seditious enterprise for purporting to become the usurper president.

Rinakama, Volavola, Vakalalabure, sports minister Leweniqila and Viliame Savu face the same charges for being sworn in as ministers in Speight's failed administration.