21 Aug 2008

Fiji given last chance by Pacific forum

8:29 pm on 21 August 2008

Fiji is being given a final chance to hold elections by March next year - otherwise it faces suspension from the Pacific Islands Forum.

Regional leaders are meeting in Niue at an annual summit.

A statement was issued on Thursday condemning recent statements by Fiji that are contrary to a commitment given by interim leader Commodore Frank Bainimarama, to hold elections next year.

The leaders also expressed serious concern at the failure of Fiji to front up to the forum, which represents 15 island nations, including Australia and New Zealand.

The say a Ministerial Contact Group will be sent back to Fiji, probably near the end of this year to monitor progress.

If the forum is not satisfied Fiji is committed to holding March elections, it will move to suspend it from the forum.

Forum chairman, Niue's Premier Toke Talagi, says a strong message needs to go out to the whole region.

Fiji has hinted that it may withdraw from the forum if ministers accept a report on elections in Fiji by the group's foreign ministers.

However, a prominent politician says Fiji wouldn't stand to lose much if it was suspended from the Pacific Islands Forum.

The leader of Fiji's Labour Party Mahendra Chaudhry, who last week resigned as the interim Finance Minister, says the Forum is of little relevance to the development of island nations because of the dominance of Australia and New Zealand.

2006 coup

Commodore Bainimarama seized power in December 2006. It was the fourth coup there since 1987.

He gave a commitment at last year's Pacific Islands Forum in Tonga to hold elections by March 2009, but now says Fiji is being pressured to return to democratic rule too quickly.