17 May 2011

NZ maintains hands-off approach to Fiji-Tonga row

10:33 pm on 17 May 2011

Prime Minister John Key says New Zealand will continue its hands-off approach to the diplomatic and legal row between Fiji and Tonga.

Fiji wants to extradite former senior military commander Ratu Tevita Uluilakeba Mara who is in Tonga after being picked up by the Tongan navy.

Ratu Tevita, a colonel, has been charged with sedition after criticising Commodore Frank Bainimarama's military regime.

He believes he will not get a fair trial in Fiji, saying the leader interferes with the judiciary on a daily basis.

The colonel says he got into trouble while on a fishing trip and the Tongan navy helped him out. He has denied that he fled Fiji.

Fiji Solicitor-General Christopher Pryde says Ratu Tevia would get a fair trial if he returned and is only a fugitive now because he skipped bail.

Fiji has accused Tonga of assisting Ratu Tevia. However, Tonga says it has no interest in interfering in Fiji's domestic affairs.

New Zealand Prime Minister John Key says the Government is monitoring the situation closely, but will not be taking any direct action.

"Its a very delicate situation, so we're not going to try and do anything to inflame that. Both parties have indicated they want to use the legal process and we'll see how that plays out."

Labour Party leader Phil Goff says the people closest to Commodore Bainimarama are questioning his regime and now it is even more obvious that no dissent will be tolerated.

However, Mr Goff agrees with the Government's current approach.

"I don't think New Zealand can intervene. We cannot determine the conditions that exist within another sovereign country, Fiji.

"We can send signals; we can be there to help with the restoration of democracy. But it's not a case of sending the troops in - that's never been an option."

The Green Party also agrees with how the Government is handling the matter and says Ratu Tevita's departure from the regime may help speed its collapse and hasten the return to democracy.

The navy's offshore patrol vessel HMNZS Otago made a routine stop in the Tongan capital Nuku'alofa on Monday and there are no plans to change its scheduled itinerary.