Friday, July 23, 2010

Smith rejects Dictator Bainimarama's attack

23 July 2010

Australia did not try to pressure nations into avoiding a forum in Fiji, Foreign Affairs Minister Stephen Smith says, rejecting claims by Fiji's military ruler Frank Bainimarama.

Commodore Bainimarama has claimed Australia's attempts to prevent the Melanesian Spearhead Group (MSG) meeting taking place have backfired, leaving Canberra with "egg on its face".

Australia and New Zealand were the only two nations to decline an invitation to attend an Engaging Fiji meeting, which began in Nadi on Thursday after the MSG meeting was postponed.

Mr Smith said he "rejects absolutely" that Australia attempted to interfere in the workings of the MSG or Fiji itself.

However, he said the government had publicly objected to the convening of the MSG meeting by Commodore Bainimarama in Fiji.

"Our rational for that, which we made clear throughout the region, was that we believe this was an attempt by Commodore Bainimarama to undermine the standing, authority and unanimity of the Pacific Islands Forum," he said

"I make no apology whatsoever for this representation."

Mr Smith said it was entirely a decision for individual countries to determine whether they would attend the meeting in Fiji.

Australia had been at the forefront of efforts to return Fiji to democracy, the foreign minister said, questioning claims by Commodore Bainimarama that elections would be held in 2014.

He said the military ruler, who seized power in a 2006 coup, had earlier said elections would be held in early 2009, but they never eventuated.

Tensions between the countries have been on the rise since Fiji expelled Australia's acting high commissioner Sarah Roberts earlier this month, the second Australian diplomat to be kicked out in nine months.

Mr Smith said Commodore Bainimarama's motivation was obvious, as the Australian government had been publicly critical of his military regime.

"Since he assumed power, Fiji's economic and social circumstance have deteriorated. That's a matter of objective fact," he said.

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