5 Nov 2009

Expelled envoy to Fiji due back in NZ

7:30 pm on 5 November 2009

New Zealand's acting Head of Mission in Fiji will leave that country on Thursday, after being expelled by the interim regime.

Fiji interim leader Commodore Frank Bainimarama issued the 24-hour expulsion order for New Zealand's Todd Cleaver and Australian High Commissioner James Batley on Tuesday evening, citing interference with the functioning of Fiji's judiciary as the reason.

Problems issuing a visa for a Fiji judge whose child needed medical treatment in New Zealand and Australia's refusal to allow Sri Lankan judges working in Fiji to visit Australia, were cited as examples of this interference.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs says Mr Cleaver will fly out of Nadi and is expected to arrive in New Zealand on Thursday night.

Mr Cleaver will not making any public comment until he has met with Foreign Affairs Minister Murray McCully in New Zealand.

In response to Mr Cleaver's expulsion, Fiji's Wellington-based diplomat Kuliniasi Seru Savou has been declared persona non grata by New Zealand and ordered to leave.

The Australian government has also told Fiji's Canberra-based envoy Kamlesh Kumar Arya to go home.

New Zealand's High Commission in Suva remains closed. However, people can try to phone the commission if they need assistance, as there are still a few staff in the office.

Mr McCully says the decision to expel Mr Savou follows diplomatic protocol and the Government's action draws attention to the fact Fiji's basis for expelling New Zealand's diplomat was unfounded.

The situation deepens already soured relations between the nations following Commodore Bainimarama's refusal to hold democratic elections in Fiji.

Coup leader Commodore Bainimarama was reappointed as Prime Minister earlier this year, less than two days after a court ruled that the 2006 coup and subsequent government was illegal. He sacked the entire judiciary in April and has been trying to replace it with Sri Lankan judges.

New Zealand and Australia have called for the elections to be held by next year, but Commodore Bainimarama has ruled this out until 2014.

In response, Fiji has been suspended from the Pacific Forum and the Commonwealth.

Labour supports decision

The Labour Party says it supports the decision to expel Mr Savou. Leader Phil Goff says he thinks it is bizarre that three New Zealand diplomats have been expelled from Fiji in such a short period of time.

Mr Goff says Commodore Bainimarama's behaviour is not rational and will ultimately make dialogue between New Zealand and Fiji even more difficult.

"This is not rational behaviour and it's certainly not the way in which we can get back to rebuilding dialogue and finding a way forward whereby Fiji can meet the requirements of re-entry to the Pacific Forum and to the Commonwealth of Nations."

Mr Goff says it is a bit rich of Fiji to accuse New Zealand and Australia of judicial interference, when the military dictatorship in Fiji has undermined the concept of an independent judiciary in that country.

Call for diplomatic approach

New Zealand-based Coalition for Democracy in Fiji says the latest row between the countries shows a different diplomatic approach is needed.

Spokesperson Nick Naidu says Fiji has made mistakes and he would like to see New Zealand and Australia change their approach from sanctions and isolation. He says people in Fiji are tired of coups.

However, Fiji Club of New Zealand president Alton Shameem says the New Zealand Government must adopt a foreign policy approach like that of United States President Barack Obama and start engaging.