Friday, June 22, 2007

MP Field says hypocritical to call for Fiji UN withdrawal

www.stuff.co.nz - NZPA | Thursday, 21 June 2007

Independent MP Taito Phillip Field says it is hypocritical for New Zealand to call for the United Nations to stop using Fiji troops when they retain personnel in the Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands.

Since the December 5 coup there have been no Fiji troops in the Australian-led Ramsi, in which New Zealand is involved. However, there are nine Fijian police and other civilian personnel.

Last week Prime Minister Helen Clark said New Zealand would repeat calls for the UN to stop using Fiji personnel after its interim leader Commodore Voreqe (Frank) Bainimarama expelled New Zealand High Commissioner Michael Green. Parliament's foreign affairs, defence and trade committee was told that representations were made to the UN again about two days ago.

Mr Field asked questions in the committee and later told NZPA New Zealand should be consistent.

"Whether it is police or military personnel they are part of the Fijian administration, New Zealand is very much a part of Ramsi. There has to be from an international perspective consistency in our position," he said.

"There's no reason it can't be seen as hypocritical if we demand of the United Nations but do not look at our own background."

National MP Murray McCully asked Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade officials at the committee about the appropriateness of Fiji earning money from its troops being used by the UN.

"Given that they've got something of a coup culture in Fiji and the United Nations ... is funding in large measure the engine that sits behind that culture."

MFAT deputy secretary Alan Williams said the UN was "keenly aware" of New Zealand's view of the use of Fiji troops.

"I anticipate that discussion will continue but we shouldn't underestimate the difficulty that the UN finds itself in at a time of unprecedented demand on the UN to provide troops," he said.

On Ramsi, Mr Williams said he took the point.

"The point you make about police personnel is acknowledged but to date the major focus has been it would be inappropriate for military personnel to be operating in Fiji."

Mr Williams said the UN was keen to retain skilled peacekeepers.

"The ability of Fiji personnel to be able to be skill-setted to the level where they can carry out peacekeeping operations will degrade quite quickly over time and that is a fact that is in UN minds right now."

MPs asked about the coup culture and questioned why changes to the constitution that were meant to prevent occurrences had not worked.

Mr Field questioned the push for fresh elections if there was going to be another coup rolling the new government.

"Even if there are elections in 2009 all the apparatus is still there for another coup that could occur in the future. The question should be raised about the long-term approach to the Fiji military."

Mr Field questioned if the country needed an army at all.

MFAT chief executive Simon Murdoch said the military had valid concerns before the coup but that action was not the way to address them.

"What was entirely wrong was the way in which those issues were pursued at the point of a gun rather than through political process."

He said it was up to Fiji to change its constitution or army.

"The issue of a constitutional review is ultimately for Fiji to work its way through. There is a wide awareness in Fiji that this coup culture is a real problem for Fiji, has been since 1987, but it will be Fiji ultimately to take that task."

Officials said New Zealand would be watching to see if Fiji met key benchmarks towards a new election starting with preparation for a September census.

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