Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Melanesia abandons pariah of Pacific

The Australian - 14 July 2010

FIJI'S regime has virtually lost all support.

THE Fiji military regime of Frank Bainimarama has just suffered the most severe dent to its status this year.

It appears that the quixotic coup leader has been abandoned by some of his last international supporters, with the postponement of the Melanesian Spearhead Group leaders' meeting, which was scheduled to be held in Fiji next week.

The timing could not have been worse - on the eve of the annual leaders' summit in Port Vila, Vanuatu, of the Pacific Islands Forum, from which Fiji was suspended last year, but to which it has kept hoping its regional friends would restore it.

Flailing against this blow, the Suva regime has kicked out yet another Australian diplomat, this time acting high commissioner Sarah Roberts.

Bainimarama has found it impossible to accept the message first from the forum and now from the MSG that it is not just Australia and to a lesser extent New Zealand that have conspired as Great and Lesser Satans to confound him internationally, but that his regime is viewed as unacceptable virtually everywhere, even in fellow Melanesian countries.

His strategy after being dumped from the forum was to leverage Fiji's position as a continuing member of the MSG - with Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, Vanuatu and the pro-Kanak party of New Caledonia - to create a new Pacific grouping excluding Australia and New Zealand.

He had invited most of the other 10 non-Melanesian island countries to come to Fiji at the same time as the MSG meeting.

Brij Lal of the Australian National University, who was expelled from his native Fiji last year, told Radio Australia that Fiji was "trying to bypass the forum leaders' gathering to assert its leadership role" - an effort that has eventually been "seen for what it really was". Thus Vanuatu Prime Minister Edward Natapei, chairman of the MSG who will next month become forum chairman, announced the postponement of the MSG meeting, when Fiji was due to take over the chair.

He said: "The potential long-term ramifications cannot be ignored. There are basic principles and values of democracy and good governance that our organisation is built on, and we must continue to uphold them."

Bainimarama yesterday said: "Natapei is the only one kicking up a fuss over Fiji's chairmanship, and the only countries benefiting from the dispute are Australia and New Zealand, who will be laughing if the meeting does not take place".

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