17 Jan 2006

Fiji PM wants regular meetings with military commander

8:18 am on 17 January 2006

Fiji's prime minister, Laisenia Qarase, says he wants to have regular, face to face meetings with the military commander, Commodore Frank Bainimarama.

Mr Qarase says these meetings will create a new avenue for dialogue between the government and the military rather than discussions through the media.

Mr Qarase's statement came after the two men ended years of public feuding and agreed to re-establish regular channels of communication during talks mediated by the acting president and commander-in-chief, Ratu Joni Madraiwiwi, yesterday.

During the talks, which Ratu Joni described as a "frank exchange of views", Mr Qarase agreed that the military commander and the police commissioner would be invited to attend meetings of the National Security Council as observers.

The prime minister assured Commodore Bainimarama that the concerns of the military on several controversial government Bills would be addressed before the final reading of these bills.

The military is particularly concerned about the Reconciliation and Unity Bill, the indigenous fishing grounds bill and the legislation bringing back the (indigenous) Fijian court system.

Mr Qarase also assured the commander that the military's concerns about the independence and integrity of this year's general election will be raised with the Electoral Commission and the supervisor of elections.

The military commander agreed with the prime minister and the acting president that he would only make comments to the media after communicating his views to the government.

Fiji's former prime minister Mahendra Chaudry has said any help from New Zealand or Australia to help defuse the country's political turmoil would be most welcome.

"Their interest is perhaps well-meaning, we have a history of coups and instability. I think as neighbours, they're certainly interested in the situation, and any help that they can render to defuse the situation would be most welcome."