Tuesday, October 16, 2007

No meeting with Fiji's interim PM says NZ

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Update: 1.51pm New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark has lashed out at Commonwealth Secretary General Don McKinnon for his wine and dine invitation to Fijian military ruler Commodore Frank Bainimarama, reports pacnews.

PM Clark arrived in Tonga yesterday to news Mr McKinnon - a former New Zealand foreign minister - had invited Commodore Bainimarama to dine with leaders ahead of the Pacific Islands Forum, which officially opens today.

Miss Clark decided against the dinner in favour of holding bilateral meetings with Tonga's Prime Minister Fred Sevele and Papua New Guinea's Sir Michael Somare last night.

Her flight, by air force Orion, was also an hour late arriving in Tonga's capital Nukualofa, which she said was another reason she would not attend the dinner.

Asked whether it was appropriate for Mr McKinnon to invite the interim commodore, given that Fiji was suspended from the Commonwealth, Miss Clark was blunt.

"I would have thought suspension from the councils of the Commonwealth included suspension from the dinner parties."

She had not planned to attend the dinner because she had other arrangements, she said.

Asked about Mr McKinnon's role in mediation with Fiji, Miss Clark said if Fiji could not sit at the Commonwealth table in Uganda - where the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting is to be held next month - he should not sit at it in Tonga.

She said this was a matter for Mr McKinnon to "square off with his constituency."

Mr McKinnon earlier told journalists he would hold talks with Commodore Bainimarama, and that his office had invited the self-appointed Fijian prime minister to the dinner.

Miss Clark had previously warned that the Fijian leader could face a frosty reception at the forum. She had predicted Commodore Bainimarama would be treated "something like a leper" if he showed up at the meeting.

Mr McKinnon said it was up to individual leaders how they addressed their country's relationship with Fiji.

"I think all of us, no matter who we are, what we do want to see is a return to democracy in Fiji and do want to see a definitive timeline to get back to democracy," he said.

"When the Commonwealth suspends a member country, as was done with Fiji, the secretary general has a responsibility to get into dialogue with the leader of that (country) and encourage them to come back onto the democratic train and back into a full democracy.

"It's appropriate for me to have a meeting with him. I have not met (Bainimarama) probably since a couple of years ago before the coup," he said.

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