Tuesday, May 31, 2011

No Going Back to Fiji - Ratu Tevita Mara

Radio Australia Pacific Beat News - 31 MAY 2011

A former chief of staff in Fiji's military regime who fled to Tonga says he's still considering options for his future. 

Before he fled Lieutenant Colonel Ratu Tevita Mara was facing charges of plotting to overthrow Fiji's coup leader Commodore Frank Bainimarama. 

Ratu Tevita has ruled out returning to Fiji and says he'll decide whether he will seek refuge in Tonga or another country within days. 

Presenter: Geraldine Coutts 
Speaker:  Lieutenant Colonel Ratu Tevita Mara, fugitive former Fiji military Chief of Staff 

I spoke to him earlier this morning, and began by asking him why he believed an Estonian man had been linked with his departure from Fiji... 

MARA: It's a witch hunt, they're going after me as I said it was a normal fishing trip. Now Bainimarama he refused to accept that and he will try and find people to blame for what happened. The Estonian man is just a normal fisherman, he operates a normal fishing business out of a certain part of Fiji, and Pacific harbour. I hardly know him. So I really don't know what evidence they have to target him. But that's normal coming out of Fiji, they'll try and blame someone and they'll bring up charges that are false. 

COUTTS: What is your status at the moment? We understand that you have or the authorities there have received the extradition papers. What's happening with that? 

MARA: I haven't actually seen the extradition papers, they couriered from Fiji through the courier system, so perhaps it's somewhere within the system, I haven't actually seen them though. 

COUTTS: So the Tongan authorities haven't approached you about extraditing you back to Fiji? 

MARA: Well they'll only approach me if they have something. I mean talking about an extradition from Fiji, it's a long shot in the dark, you're talking about an illegal government that's abrogated its constitution, you're talking about an illegal government that currently all its standing treaties with Tonga are suspended. So what are you actually talking about? 

COUTTS: What is your status at the moment? Are you seeking asylum? 

MARA: It may get to that, it may get to that. I'm doing some work, working with the other democratic movements for Fiji across the world. 

COUTTS: So when you have everything ready can you give us a clue as to what it is that you're seeking? Are you seeking political asylum or are you looking to go to a third country, perhaps New Zealand? 

MARA: Those are options that are available, I'm not ready to disclose yet. 

COUTTS: Alright well can we get down to the military council now, you were a member, and in the beginning little was written and little was said about it, in fact it operated under extreme secrecy. What can you tell us about the military council? For instance who did it answer to? 

MARA: Well if I ever was in the initial military council it was answerable only to Bainimarama, and we were the ones who advised him, if he wanted to clarify things he'd come through us, and that was the way it operated. 

COUTTS: Who were the five of the initial members? 

MARA: I can't mention names at the moment now, but it was military, no civilian people were allowed into the five military council members. 

COUTTS: What can you tell us about the military council though, because it has been quite secret? For instance what advice did you offer Commodore Bainimarama? 

MARA: We were to ensure that the Commodore kept the roadmap that he had announced in 2007, that was one of the main works of the military council to ensure that elections were done in 2010. And also there were decisions that he had to make, if he needed clarification he brought it to us, if there were decisions for cabinet that he needed clarification or advice on, he took it to us, and normal executive help in running the country. 

COUTTS: What was the pecking order though, could you override Commodore Bainimarama in his decision-making at that time, the military council I mean, I don't mean you personally but the military council? 

MARA: We would advise him, but as far as overriding that was something we really didn't come to that stage at any time. 

COUTTS: Well how long did the military council work with Commodore Bainimarama? Is it still operating?

MARA: It's on expanded role now, but it's lost, it has been expanded to include other military officers who are working, who have been pulled into the civil service. It's got civilian people, in particular the AG, so after 2007, later part of 2007-2008, it was defunct, it hardly met, we were just information. Public decisions he had already made he just came to inform us. So that's how we started to lose our effectiveness. 

COUTTS: So other issues now, there've been allegations that you put out on YouTube that there have been some beatings of a number of people, Latia I think was one and the Young Peoples Congress also another, that you've named directly by Commodore Bainimarama. Can you prove that, were you actually witness to those beatings? 

MARA: Yes I vented that in my release. 

COUTTS: Now we have to say at this stage that we have tried repeatedly to invite Commodore Frank Bainimarama on to the program to answer those allegations along with invitations issued to interim Attorney General Aiyaz Khaiyum, but we haven't been able to get through to the Commodore directly, but the invitations at this stage are still there, but you have also said that you want Australia and New Zealand to do more, what do you want them to do? 

MARA: Obviously we all want to see a return to democracy in Fiji, clearly what's going on at the moment it's nothing moving in Fiji, nothing moving towards elections. Australia and New Zealand currently have measures in place, that should have brought Fiji back to democratic elections by now, five years down the line it still hasn't happened. The issues that we're working on we'll touch on that when the time is right, I can't disclose what we'll bring up in the New Zealand and Australian government.


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