Wednesday, May 18, 2011

NZ May Yet Admit Fijian Fugitive says PM Key


NZ Herald News - 18 May 2011
by Claire Trevett
The Government is considering removing travel sanctions on the former Fiji Army officer who faces an extradition hearing after fleeing to Tonga, says Prime Minister John Key.

Fiji yesterday lodged an application to extradite the former commander of its infantry regiment, Lieutenant Colonel Ratu Tevita Mara. 
 
He is facing a charge of making seditious comments and was on bail when he was picked up by a Tongan Navy vessel and taken to Tonga last week, where he is being housed by the King. 
 
A key figure in the 2006 coup, he is now criticising the Bainimarama regime, including saying yesterday that New Zealand and Australia needed to take a harder line and "use more force to bring this regime down". 
 
Mr Key said New Zealand would continue to stay out of the issue between Fiji and Tonga. 

However, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs was considering removing the colonel from the sanctions list. 
 
Although the fugitive was clearly no longer part of the regime, the Government had to consider issues such as family links. His brother-in-law is Fiji's President.
 
Fiji's Solicitor-General, Christopher Pryde, said the extradition request was sent yesterday and Fiji had asked Tonga's Prime Minister, Lord Tu'ivakano, to expedite it. He said there was a clear case to answer. 
 
Mr Pryde rejected claims Lieutenant Colonel Mara would not be able to get a fair trial in Fiji, saying there was no interference by Government in the courts' decisions. 
 
Tonga's Public Enterprises Minister, Clive Edwards, said his Government had not yet seen the detail of the charges so he could not speculate. However, the list of crimes for which Tongan law allowed extradition did not include sedition-related offences. 
 
Refusing to allow extradition could be seen as a further snub by Tonga of Fiji. 
Pacific commentator Dr Crosbie Walsh - a qualified supporter of Commodore Frank Bainimarama's stated goals for Fiji - said the situation was embarrassing for the commodore but he believed Lieutenant Colonel Mara's actions were personal and the issue would subside quickly. 
 
"We all know Fiji is divided ... but I don't really think Tevita can split the military from Bainimarama," he said. 
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