Monday, May 23, 2011

NZ Man Held in Fiji over Army Chief's Escape

NZ Hearld News - 22 May 2011



Kiwi pulled in for questioning in Fiji (Source: Newstalk ZB)
NZ Citizen Anthony Fullman


One New Zealander and a Cook Islander have reportedly been interviewed by Fijian authorities in connection with the escape of Fiji's top army chief to Tonga.
Kiwi Businessman Anthony Fullman and Cook Islander surfing instructor Tim McBride, are reportedly being held by Fiji police over the defection of Lieutenant Colonel Tevita Mara.
Mr Fullman, the head of Fiji's Water Authority, was questioned because phone records show he had been talking to Mr Mara before he left for Tonga, TVNZ reported.
ONE News correspondent Barbara Dreaver was told by Mr Mara it was only natural the pair had spoken because they are friends.
Tim McBride, who is the husband of Mr Mara's niece, was suspected of helping him leave to the island of Kadavu to board a waiting Tonga navy boat last week. He has been in Tonga ever since.
Fiji Prime Minister Commodore Voreqe Bainimarama is seeking to have Mr Mara extradited from Tonga to stand trial for sedition.


Fijian police spokesman Atunaisa Sokomuri told Fiji Sunpeople had been interviewed in connection to Mr Col Mara leaving Fiji, but would not divulge details.
"We have firmly established that Ratu Tevita had associates who helped him flee," Mr Sokomuri said.
"He was picked up by the Tongan Navy within Fiji's territorial waters and it was not a sea rescue as claimed by the Tongan Navy.
"It was a planned and deliberate operation."
Prime Minister John Key told Newstalk ZB he has not heard of any New Zealanders are in custody in Fiji.
"The latest advice I've had from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade is that there aren't any New Zealanders being detained by the police there but we're constantly and continually checking that information but the best advice I have at the moment is no," he says.
In an interview posted in the Fijian blog Coup Four and a Half, Mr Mara said Fiji police were looking in the wrong direction by interviewing Mr McBride.
"My statements and my presence here in Tonga is a big slap in the face of the regime. Bainimarama needs to save face and the only way they can do that is by framing someone as an accomplice to my escape.
"As I said I went fishing by myself and I got into difficulties and I was rescued by a Tongan Navy vessel.
"I am a military officer and I am perfectly capable of organising a fishing trip."
He said military surveillance teams were loyal to him and not Commodore Bainimarama.
"I was fishing from Sunday to Tuesday before I got into difficulties.
"In that whole time no one knew I was missing. This indicates the lack of support for Frank (Bainimarama) in the army."
A spokeswoman for the Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade told NZPA the High Commission in Fiji had contacted local authorities which said there were no New Zealanders in custody.
She said inquiries were ongoing.
Mr Mara has been charged with sedition in Fiji - for allegedly making anti-government comments - and accused of trying to overthrow the regime.
He said he fled the country to force a regime change accusing Fiji's self-appointed leader Mr Bainimarama of being an "ignorant puppet".
Mr Bainimarama has declared Mr Mara a fugitive and accused the Royal Tongan Navy of illegally picking up him up from Fijian waters.
Members of Mr Mara's family has since been taken in by Fiji police for questioning.
The Bula Tribune, a Fiji publication based in California, reported his sister Adi Ateca Mara-Ganilau was visited by six soldiers, making her the fourth member of Lt Col Mara's family to be harassed.
Mr McBride's wife Adi Koila Ganilau was also picked up, and was forcibly taken to her Pacific Harbour home two days ago before her house was ransacked.
Mr Mara wife Dolores was questioned a few days ago and has since been released.
AUT's director of the Pacific Media Centre, David Robie, said the regime know something fishy has gone on.
"They're convinced that this was an operation rather than so called fishing trip that went wrong. Anybody that's familiar with Fiji would realise that high chiefs don't actually go out fishing in that way. There was always someone to fish for them,"
Mr Robie said they have now started a witch hunt as the incident has left Fiji's leaders deeply embarrassed.
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