Sunday, February 21, 2010

NZ, Fiji to Reopen their Embassies

- AFP - 20 February 2010

Fiji and New Zealand say they have cleared the way for diplomats to return to their embassies in Wellington and Suva, following a second round of talks in three weeks.

Relations between the two countries have been strained since a military coup in Fiji three years ago and further deteriorated last year with the tit-for-tat expulsion of senior diplomats.

However, New Zealand foreign minister Murray McCully described the latest talks, held in Fiji, as "fruitful and respectful".

Mr McCully and Fiji foreign minister Inoke Kubuabola issued a statement saying they were committed "to maintaining their dialogue and to ensuring both countries had effective diplomatic representation in each country".

They confirmed Mere Tora had arrived in Wellington to be acting head of mission at the Fiji High Commission and Phillip Taula would arrive in Suva in early March to be New Zealand's acting head of the embassy.

The meeting followed talks in Sydney earlier this month, which also involved Australian Foreign Minister Stephen Smith.

New Zealand and Australia have been the harshest critics of Fiji since military leader Frank Bainimarama led a bloodless coup in December 2006.

Commodore Bainimarama has repeatedly accused them of bullying his country.

Mr McCully has previously stressed that any improvement in relations with Suva did not signal a change to views about Fiji's need to return to democracy, nor did it mean sanctions, including travel bans, would be lifted.

He says the talks will focus on ways the two countries could "get to a point with Fiji where we can maintain missions, regardless of serious disagreements".

Fiji was suspended from the 16-nation Pacific Islands Forum in May last year and from the Commonwealth in September over Commodore Bainimarama's broken promise to hold elections by March 2009.

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