Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Fiji and New Zealand rift thaws as diplomats appointed

By Phil Mercer
BBC News, Sydney

Commodore Frank Bainimarama took power in a 2006 coup. After months of diplomatic tension, New Zealand and Fiji are making efforts to improve bilateral ties by re-appointing senior staff to their high commissions.

A series of diplomatic expulsions last year triggered a deterioration in ties.

Fiji has repeatedly clashed with its neighbours in the South Pacific since a military coup in December 2006.

In November, New Zealand's most senior diplomat was expelled by the Fijian authorities in retaliation for a travel ban on members of Fiji's government.

In response, Fiji's envoy was ordered to leave New Zealand, and bilateral ties slumped to a new low.

But now the foreign ministers of both countries have agreed to boost the diplomatic presence at their respective missions, which have been operating with a skeleton staff.

'Infuriated neighbours'

The return of the two high commissioners who were banished last year seems some way off. But after meeting his Fijian counterpart, New Zealand's Foreign Minister Murray McCully said that progress had been made.

Mr McCully stressed that the dialogue did not signal a change in Wellington's strong opposition to Fiji's military-led administration nor would sanctions be eased as a result.

The army chief Commodore Frank Bainimarama seized power in a bloodless coup more than three years ago.

As the head of Fiji's interim government he has infuriated his South Pacific neighbours by failing to return his country swiftly to democracy.

Commodore Bainimarama has insisted he is on a mission to cleanse a rotten political system of corruption and racism towards the ethnic Indian minority.

However his critics have accused him of behaving like a dictator, while the Fijian economy slides deeper into the red under the weight of international isolation.

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