1 Jun 2005

Fiji police concerned as tension mounts over reconciliation bill

6:54 pm on 1 June 2005

Police are closely monitoring the security situation in Fiji as tension mounts over the Qarase government's controversial Reconciliation and Unity Bill.

The police commissioner, Andrew Hughes, has told Radio Legend that information from officers on the ground is that sharply divided views on the Bill could lead to an uprising.

Mr Hughes says they are concerned about a situation where the language becomes stronger and it goes to the next level which can precipitate the mobilisation of people and the potential for violence.

He says some very strong views are being expressed but that in itself is fine because it is democracy at work.

But Mr Hughes says police are concerned that this does not go to the next level and escalate into a situation they don't want to see occur.

The Fiji military says officers will be present at parliament again tomorrow when the prime minister, Laisenia Qarase, speaks on the controversial Reconciliation and Unity bill.

29 senior military officers sat in the public gallery yesterday in a silent protest at the government's tabling of the bill which contains amnesty provisions that could see coup convicts go free and others granted immunity from prosecution.

Some government MPs said their presence was intimidating and the military was over-reacting.

But, the military spokesman, Captain Neumi Leweni, says officers will show up again tomorrow to show people that they mean what they say when they say they don't agree with the bill.

"We don't think there is anything that should be able to stop any citizen of this country wanting to sit at the gallery. We don't relinquish our status as citizens of the country when we become soldiers. We are still very much citizens of this country so we have the rights that any other citizens have."

Captain Leweni says the military is trying to make an appointment with the Home Affairs minister, Josefa Vosanibola, to let him know the steps and strategies the military will be taking over the bill.

A high level source says the military plan to ask the president not to sign the bill although Captain Leweni declined to confirm this.

A longtime former Fiji cabinet minister has warned that the Qarase government could be the first victim of its Reconciliation Bill.

The Fiji Times reports that the warning has come from Filipe Bole, a senior official of the New Alliance Party of Fiji.

Mr Bole says the military could use the provisions of the Reconciliation and Unity Bill to oust the Qarase government from office.

Mr Bole says according to the Bill, any politically motivated act would be excusable.

He says such provisions of the Bill give the military a legitimate opportunity to kick the government out for the sake of preserving national security.

Mr Bole says the army is already on top of the situation and once the Bill is passed, it will give the military the legal weapon to oust the government.

He says the government is stupid to remain adamant on passing the Bill despite widespread condemnation from all sectors of country and from abroad.