13 Jan 2010

NZ envoy needs to understand Fiji - Bainimarama

2:39 pm on 13 January 2010

Fiji's interim leader says New Zealand's incoming diplomats need to arrive in the Pacific nation with an open mind.

Commodore Frank Bainimarama was responding to Tuesday's joint agreement to improve relations between the two countries.

He says the envoys should understand and appreciate efforts being made to turn the country into a democratic society.

Speaking on Radio Tarana, the Commodore said Fiji was more than happy to work with other governments, including Australia.

Foreign Affairs Minister Murray McCully announced on Tuesday that Fiji and New Zealand have agreed to appoint diplomats to their high commissions in Wellington and Suva.

Mr McCully said this did not signal a substantive change in policy towards the regime in Fiji and sanctions remain in place. Rather, the aim is to allow better communication to take place between the two countries.

Australia supports improved links

The Australian government is supporting New Zealand's move to improve diplomatic relations with the military-led regime.

Foreign Minister Stephen Smith says it is a sensible move, but does not take pressure off the administration in Fiji for a return to democracy.

Mr Smith says disagreement with a particular country is not a reason not to have diplomatic relations.

Tuesday's announcement came two months after Fiji expelled New Zealand's top diplomat Todd Cleaver from the country.

In November, Australia expelled Fiji's top diplomat in Canberra in retaliation for the move by Fiji's military regime. Mr Smith said he wanted that position rectified but that would not be occurring immediately.

Fiji community in NZ welcomes change

Members of Auckland's Fiji community say the move is a small but positive step in improving relations.

The Coalition for Democracy in Fiji says the decision to re-engage with the military leadership could enable New Zealand to have a positive influence on the regime.

A community leader in Auckland, Bulou Amalaini Ligalevu, says while moving Fiji towards democracy is important, Fiji nationals in New Zealand want travel sanctions as soon as possible.