11 Nov 2015

Fiji Police chief resigns amid apparent standoff with military

From , 6:05 am on 11 November 2015
Fiji's police commissioner Bernadus Groenewald. Appointed in May 2014.

Fiji police commissioner Ben Groenewald Photo: RNZI/ Sally Round

Fiji's Police Commissioner Ben Groenewald has resigned and been replaced by Fiji's land force commander Sitiveni Qiliho as acting Police Commissioner.

His resignation comes amid an apparent stand-off between the police and Fiji's military over officers alleged to have been involved in a brutal beating.

Sally Round reports.

Mr Groenewald who's South African has had just eighteen months in the job.

He is now preparing to leave Fiji after a sudden turn of events following a spate of events involving military and police officers alleged to have been involved in a brutal videotaped beating of an escaped prisoner which went viral nearly three years ago.

The Fiji government announced Mr Groenewald's resignation in a statement late on Tuesday.

For personal and family reasons, the Commissioner of the Fiji Police Force, Mr Bernardus Groenewald has submitted written notification for an early release from his contractual appointment as the Commissioner of the Fiji Police Force with effect from Tuesday 10 November 2015.

Mr Groenewald told the ABC it was indeed for personal reasons but when pressed he said he was not happy with the way the Fiji military is interfering with policing.

The fact is that I do not agree with the way that they are interfering with policing. I am a true-blooded police officer and I'm not satisfied with the way that they interfere in policing.

Mr Groenewald had only just returned from speaking at a conference in Costa Rica on Fiji's efforts to curb police brutality.

During his absence police failed in their attempt, according to reports,  to arrest a military officer Pita Matairavula at the barracks in Suva, after he did not turn up in court on an assault charge.

And the resignation comes a day after the Land Force Commander Colonel Sitiveni Qiliho defended the military's decision to hire three police officers facing similar charges who had been suspended from the police force as they awaited court appearances.

They haven't been convicted yet but unfortunately, the police force has abandoned them. They were working for the Fiji police force, and they were working with military officers. Now, we will stand by our men and women through thick and thin, we are not going to abandon them.

Colonel Qiliho is now taking on the Police Commissioner role in an acting capacity and the government says the position will be advertised.

The Secretary General of the opposition Sodelpa party Pio Tabaiwalu says the party's shocked at the turn of events.

He says Mr Groenewald has done a magnificent job and the resignation is undoubtedly due to police investigations into the alleged assaults involving the military.

He has also questioned the appointment of Colonel Qiliho.

Members of Fiji police and military forces.

Members of Fiji police and military forces. Photo: AFP