Friday, June 10, 2011

Ratu Tevita Mara Speaks out in Australia

Radio Australia News - 10 June 2011


 Ratu Tevita Mara 
The fugitive Fijian army officer, Lt Col Tevita Mara, has arrived in Canberra ahead of his keynote address to the Fiji democracy movement tomorrow, where he'll launch a ten-point plan for the restoration of democracy in Fiji.
The former army commander is facing charges of mutiny and trying to overthrow the military government in Fiji.
Since escaping Fiji, Colonel Mara has accused the regime of corruption and violence and he says interim Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama has no intention of holding elections in 2014.
He's also apologised for his own role in the coup which deposed the Qarase government in 2006.
Presenter: Canberra Correspondent, Joanna McCarthy
Speaker: Former Fiji military officer, Lt Col Ratu Tevita Mara
MARA: It's important in the sense that I'll be meeting up with the democracy people in Australia and also coming to Australia, this is one of the biggest democratic countries in the world. Australia as you know has played a major part in the Pacific, but not only the Pacific, but Fiji in particular in bringing Fiji up from post-colonial times to where it is now.
McCARTHY: Will you be meeting with any members of the Australian government while you're here?
MARA: I'm with the pro-democracy people. Any discussions or meeting with Australian government officials will be through them.
McCARTHY: OK. What level of contact have you had with government officials from the Foreign Affairs Department?
MARA: Eh, actually I haven't had any official contact with them.
McCARTHY: OK. As you know, there are travel bans on members of the Fijian regime. How were you able to obtain your visa?
MARA: I became a member of the civil society in March, that's when the army discharged me, so I've put in my application through the normal channel with the assistance of the pro-democracy movement people in Australia.
McCARTHY: And what message will you have for members of that movement tomorrow when you address them in Queanbeyan?
MARA: That is what we need at the moment, more concerted effort from not only groups in Australia, but throughout Australia, but New Zealand and across the world as well. There has to be a concerted effort at bringing about a democratic change in governance in Fiji.
McCARTHY: Do you think that pressure from outside Fiji can have any effect, because it does seem since 2006 that attempts to isolate the regime have really had no effect.
MARA: Eh, yes definitely, definitely. The smart sanctions imposed by Australia is having an effect on the movement of key government personnel within the region and also in contact with the Australian government. They obviously can have an affect on……
McCARTHY: Because as you know, the Opposition here in Australia and think tanks like the Lowy Institute have suggested that Australia's tough love approach to Fiji hasn't worked and that really they should perhaps diplomatically engage with the regime and try to bring about a return to democracy in that way. What do you think about that?
MARA: Australia has tried its best to engage with Fiji diplomatically and what Fiji has done is expel all the diplomats. So I don't think Australia's actions has been as tough as it can be, but that's something for the Australian government to decide. Obviously these decisions made from the outside of organisations – who don't really understand what's happening in Fiji. That's something they need to know and find out.
McCARTHY: In one of your UTUBE statements you personally apologise to the Fijian people for the role you played in the coup in 2006. It might still be hard for some Fijians to accept your calls now for a return to democracy when you were one of those who overthrew the democratically-elected government of Laisena Qarase. What would you say to them?
MARA: As you've mentioned, I've apologised to them and at the end of all this, I'm ready to stand for them and answer for those. It's something I regret. I've said all in my interviews as you've mentioned. I sincerely regret. If we could rewind the clock back, I'm sure a lot of us senior officers would have advised Commodore Bainimarama not to carry out the military coup.
McCARTHY: You also say in this UTUBE statement that immediately after the 2006 coup, there was a crackdown on dissenters and if I could quote you "anyone who was too vocal was taken up to the QEB Barracks where they were assaulted and humiliated. If Commodore Bainimarama was not attacking their bodies, he was attacking their properties and organised a number of arson attacks against the people of Fiji. Did you see Commodore Bainimarama carry out these attacks?
MARA: Eh, I've mentioned that, I've mentioned that I witnessed him personally participating in an incident. The other activities that's happened it's happening now, it's still going on now, people are being taken up or people being harassed around the country and it's happening under his watch. He's the prime minister, he's the commander. Obviously he knows all these that's happening under him.
McCARTHY: You were the fourth ranked military officer, you were often responsible for bringing civilians to the barracks. Did you ever carry out assaults on these civilians?
MARA: No, I've categorically denied that. I never actually took part in any assaults …
McCARTHY: Did you ever intervene when you did see these attacks being carried out?
MARA: Yes indeed, I've personally intervened in some of the incidents that took place.
McCARTHY: Can you tell me when that happened?
MARA: Eh, I think it's some of the parliamentarians, former parliamentarians will testify to that. He had given us instructions before to pick them up and bring them up to camp and I tried my very best to keep them out of camp. So I've tried by best at trying to prevent these kind of things happening.
McCARTHY: On UTUBE, you described an incident where you saw Commodore Bainimarama assaulting three women, is that right?
MARA: Eh, yes I've mentioned that.
McCARTHY: Can you tell us more about the circumstances of that assault?
MARA: Those were the pro-democracy movement that was straight after the coup. It was a very vocal, they had a shrine in their house, in front of their house, and they obviously attracting a lot of attention That was before the media censorship was brought in. So one evening they were brought up again and they underwent as I've described it, that incident.
McCARTHY: And after incidents such as that, you did remain Commodore Bainimarama's so-called right hand man. Why did you continue to support him after you had witnessed those events?
MARA: Eh, it's not really his right hand man. There were some other people there also as well. Why did we support him? We thought the reasons for carrying out the coup was noble. If you look at his road map back to democracy that he delivered in 2007, February, 2007, the reasons given were genuine and it would have meant that we would have gone back to elections in 2010. At that stage, early, we thought that all those things associated with taking over government, so we'll come out of it and as he stated the reasons were genuine and will return back to general elections in 2010. But sadly, that didn't happen.
McCARTHY: And so did you think some level of violence against civilians and crackdown on dissent was justified in pursuit of that broader aim?
MARA: No, I've mentioned that it can't really be justified, you can't justify especially using the military against civilians, but under the context of trying to control the situation.
McCARTHY: You were very close to Commodore Bainimarama and now you say he's morally and intellectually bankrupt, a dictator and a hand puppet of the attorney-general Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum. What events led to you making such a dramatic reassessment of how you saw him?
MARA: It was late 2007-2008, we had the military council he was just wasn't listening, we had meetings but it was mainly for information. He had already passed decisions and then already given them to us. We gave him military intelligence briefs on threats within the country and how we saw that his policies were giving rise to people coming out against the government and some of the policies that were being brought forward by the government through the attorney-general, well we advised him on that, but obviously he did not want to listen to our advice.
McCARTHY: Now, you've been in Tonga and of course the Fijian government has been calling for your extradition. Some Fijian sources are saying that your brother-in-law, Fiji president liaised with Tonga to ensure that your safe passage there, is that the case?
MARA: No, noone in Fiji as I've said. It was a normal fishing trip that went wrong. The Tongan navy responded to my distress calls. They were in that area, so that's how I got to Tonga.
McCARTHY: Some people are sceptical about that story though. Do you understand why they would be?
MARA: Yes, yes, obviously given the close relations between Tonga and Fiji, but a lot of people have been actually investigated now, including members of my family for allegedly aiding in my leaving Fiji, but I categorically stated that noone assisted in. It's a normal fishing trip.
McCARTHY: Are you concerned about what might happen to your brother-in-law because of these allegations?
MARA: Bainimara and Khaiyum have publicly made statements that they want the president removed, so if it comes to the situation where he's removed, I wouldn't be surprised.
McCARTHY: You're also planning on travel around other Pacific Islands to campaign against Commodore Bainimarama's regime. Who will you be meeting with there and how do you think they will receive you?
MARA: I think it's something that I've come here to discuss with pro-democracy movement people here in Australia and then from here, we'll put out a plan how I can go out and speak to the regional countries. The only support he has in the region is from the MSG (Melanesia Spearhead Goup)countries, that's only three countries apart from Fiji.
McCARTHY: And we understand you are seeking protection in New Zealand. What exactly are you asking from the New Zealand government?
MARA: I haven't gone into the process of seeking protection. All I was asking for is just a visa to go there and meet pro-democracy people in New Zealand, that's all.
McCARTHY: Will you be seeking asylum in Australia or New Zealand?
MARA: Not at this stage, not at this stage.
PRESENTER: Radio Australia has tried repeatedly to get a response from Commodore Bainimarama to the allegations made by Ratu Tevita Mara, without success. This afternoon, a spokesman for the Commodore said they would issue a statement shortly, but that the Commodore would not respond directly to Ratu Tevita Mara's claims.
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