21 Jan 2009

Commodore's no-show no surprise - Key

6:02 am on 21 January 2009

New Zealand Prime Minister John Key says he is disappointed but not surprised by reports that Fiji's interim prime minister, Frank Bainimarama, will not attend next week's Pacific Islands Forum meeting.

Mr Key is due to meet leaders from the group in Papua New Guinea to decide the fate of Fiji's membership of the forum.

But Commodore Bainimarama has told Radio Tarana that the last thing he wants to do is leave the country after recent flooding in Fiji.

Mr Key says he is also disappointed by the commodore's comments that he is effectively ruling out holding democratic elections in Fiji this year.

He says the forum will consider what, if any, sanctions it could impose on Fiji, including its suspension from the group.

Australia has been considering lifting travel bans on Commodore Bainimarama so he can attend the forum meeting.

Leaders from the forum's 16 member states will next week fly into Papua New Guinea's capital of Port Moresby to discuss the fate of Fiji's membership.

The easiest way for Commodore Bainimarama to arrive in Port Moresby is a flight via Brisbane, but Australia's bans restrict the self-imposed leader from all travel in the country, including transfers.

A spokesperson for the Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade said New Zealand made transit arrangement allowances for Commodore Bainimarama for last year's forum meeting in Niue.

The spokesperson said Australia was considering a request for Fiji's interim prime minister and the members of his delegation to be allowed to transit the country.

Commodore Bainimarama led a bloodless coup in December 2006. He has failed to live up to promises he made at a forum meeting in Tonga in 2007 that free and fair elections would be held by mid-2009.

Australia and New Zealand have criticised Fiji's regime and placed travel restrictions on Commodore Bainimarama and his supporters.

The special meeting on 27 January will discuss how to deal with Fiji following its failure to keep its promise to hold an election.

Papua New Guinea's prime minister, Michael Somare, is promoting himself as a deal maker between forum countries calling for Fiji's expulsion and Fiji's interim government.