Saturday, May 21, 2011

'Dictator's Hold on Fiji is Crumbling'

NZ Herald Editorial - 21 May 2011

Sooner or later Fijians will wake up to the profound insolence of a self-appointed leadership telling them it knows their best interest and does not care for their vote. 

Dictatorships fall when basic human resentment at the removal of rights and freedoms can no longer be repressed. Fijians have much to resent. 

The dramatic flight to Tonga a week ago of their former third-ranked military officer, Lieutenant Colonel Tevita Mara, who was "rescued" at sea, shows that resentments now boil within the regime. 

Colonel Mara, son of Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara, the country's founding Prime Minister, called for the overthrow of the Government of Frank Bainimarama. 
It was, he said, a "hateful dictatorship". He accused Commodore Bainimarama of being ill, morally and intellectually bankrupt, and acting as a "hand puppet" of Fiji's civilian Attorney-General, Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum. 

The YouTube video of Colonel Mara's message to Fijians also targeted those still serving in the armed forces.

Interestingly, the colonel fled after being charged with making seditious comments and inciting mutiny. The high-level arrests were not reported in the censored Fijian media. 

Colonel Mara says he and another leading officer had given advice to their commander on how to soften the regime's approach to public dissent. That in itself was seen as betrayal. But public dissent is at the heart of this. 

If Colonel Mara had not been making seditious comments and inciting mutiny before, he certainly is now. It is something of a Damascene conversion. He accepts he will answer to Fijians for his time serving the regime, having commanded the army's third infantry regiment at the time of the 2006 coup. 

Nevertheless, the advice he gave Commodore Bainimarama that led to his being charged and now his public stand from Nuku'alofa exhibit great courage deserving of national and international support. 

Fiji has predictably dragged out allegations that the formerly trusted colonel is being investigated over missing funds from Fiji Pine. It is blustering about Tonga's involvement. 

The Tongan King, George Tupou V, counts the Mara clan as relatives, and his Government is playing it cool, saying any bid for extradition will be handled independently by Tonga's courts. It notes Fiji must show good grounds for the charges laid against Colonel Mara. 

Most likely, this is the point where the Bainimarama regime will struggle. Its concept of "rule of law" is peculiar to its ilk. In Nuku'alofa there are no handpicked Bainimarama regime judges ready to apply Mr Sayed-Khaiyum's rulebook. 

Directly or indirectly Tonga is standing up for Fijians' right to be heard. Having undergone its own tentative transformation to real democracy, it now does the democratic cause in the wider South Pacific a valuable service. 

New Zealand is steering clear of taking sides. Foreign Minister Murray McCully noted the division in the regime and said intervention would not be helpful. He is probably right. 

Commodore Bainimarama tries to convince Fijians that criticism from Australia and New Zealand is some kind of post-colonial hang-up from nations with no clue of the cultural and societal goals of his armed rule. 

Colonel Mara's insider view is far more powerful, in any case. A leading Fijian Establishment military man is calling things as they are. 

He hopes Tonga's system will resist pressure and prevent Suva forcing him home before the regime is itself in the dock, answering to Fijians for the abuses and misrule it has perpetrated. The case will be a milestone in Fiji's return to freedom.

Posted on Coup Four Point Five - 21 May 2011

Key evidence could ensure the end of Bainimarama and regime

DEATH AT THE HANDS OF POLICE: The funeral of Nimilote Verebasaga.

One of Frank Bainimarama's former land force commanders says it's possible the illegal leader could be prosecuted in an international court of law if there's enough evidence to prove human rights violations.
Jone Baledrokadroka says some discussions were held about gathering evidence against Bainimarama after he abrogated the 1997 Constitution in 2009, but nothing ever came of it.
Roko Ului Mara, Bainimarama's former third infantry commander, is now said to be preparing to reveal more damaging information about the regime.
Television New Zealand has reported that he has shown them evidence of secret military intelligence he has with him and is due to reveal soon, in a bid to undermine the military government of Bainimarama.
Baledrokadroka says the Australian-based Fiji democracy movement has talked of taking Bainimarama to the International Criminal Court and serving summons on him in South Korea or Hong Kong (at the time Fiji's ties weren't so strong with China), where he normally transits on his world trips.
The PhD student in politics at ANU who was expelled in 2006 for alleged insubordination, says there would have to be evidence of human rights violations, draconian decrees if not genocide or mass political imprisonment for Fiji's case to be taken up by the ICC.
If successful, participating member states would keep a lookout for when Bainimarama transited through; he would then be arrested to answer to the charges.
The Ivory Coast President, Alassane Ouattara, just yesterday asked the ICC to investigate allegations of serious human rights crimes committed during the recent fighting over the results of the November elections.
An estimated 3,000 people were killed during the four-month election dispute between his forces and those loyal to incumbent president Laurent Gbagbo, who was finally captured last month after French forces intervened.
In Fiji, deaths have certainly occured since Bainimarama was army commander and since he became the illegal prime minister after he staged the 2006 Coup.
In 2000, four rebel soldiers were beaten to death by soldiers loyal to him during a mutiny (and the famous cassava patch run) at QEB barracks. Forty-two soldiers were later convicted of the deaths but it has always been believed Bainimarama gave the orders 'shoot to kill'.
In January 2007, Fiji citizen Sakiusa Rabaka died after he was taken to camp with a group of men on suspicion of buying marijuana. The group were allegedly forced to rape one another for the amusement of soldiers and Rabaka was so badly beaten, he later died.
Tevita Malasebe and Nimilote Verebasaga also died at the hands of Fiji police, during Bainimarama's time in power.
There has certainly been no shortage of examples of human rights abuses at the Queen Elizabeth barracks, with a number of citizens being able to identify the military officers who've assaulted or terrorised them. A number of these violations, including the recent one of Sam Speight, have been documented.
Human rights activists and blogs like Coupfourpointfive have been gathering and publicising information of abuse, such as those committed by Bainimarama's QEB Goons, whenever possible.

But it's hoped Roko Ului Mara, who has been part of Bainimarama's inner sanctum thanks to being commander of the third infantry and a member of the Military Council, has the 'killer' evidence that will ensure the dictator is held accountable for the crimes.
And if he can extricate himself from the many fishhooks that abound over how he got from Fiji to Tonga last week to reveal some dynamite previously untold information, it will be truly a case of the one that got away.

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