2 Jun 2005

Fiji PM says coup convicts are victim of legal system

4:58 pm on 2 June 2005

Fiji's prime minister says coup convicts and supporters are victims of a legal system which does not recognise the customary aspects of their society.

Laisenia Qarase made the comments in the second reading of his highly controversial Reconciliation and Unity Bill early this afternoon.

As Mr Qarase began speaking, members of the opposition Labour Party who were taken hostage at gunpoint when their coalition government was overthrown, walked out.

Mr Qarase said many of the indigenous people who went to parliament during the coup were fighting for the cause of their people.

He said the coup supporters and those who went to the Labasa army barracks during the mutiny were fulfilling their customary obligations.

He said these people did not have any criminal intent but had a political motive.

Mr Qarase has called on critics of the Bill to make their views known to parliament's Justice, Law and Order Sector Committee when it seeks submissions.

But the Labour MP, Gaffer Ahmed, says his party won't co-operate with the committee.

"No member from the opposition side will take part in this sector committee to scrutinise the reconciliation bill."

Fiji's NGO Coalition on Human Rights says it was denied entry into the parliamentary complex for the second reading.

Present in the public gallery inside were military officers who are demonstrating their opposition to the Bill.

However, the coordinator of the Fiji Women's Rights Movement, Virisila Buadromo, says the NGO coalition was prohibited by police from entering the grounds, unlike the supporters of the bill.

We were only allowed to stand outside for an hour. We weren't allowed into the gallery because the SDL party had managed to get two busloads of their supporters to come in and listen to the second reading. And because there's limited space, most of them went inside. They were allowed into the area where we were not allowed.

New Zealand's acting foreign minister, Marian Hobbs, says considerable debate is needed in Fiji on the Reconciliation and Unity bill if it is to achieve its goals.

Ms Hobbs says it's not New Zealand's role to interfere.

New Zealand is not saying it supports the bill or it doesn't support the bill but it is all part of a process, and at least that bill pushes that process right up front for discussions.

Marian Hobbs