Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Rescue of Fijian Army Colonel Mara : Interview by Tevita Motulalo

Taimi o Tonga - 01 June 2011

Rescue of Fijian Army Colonel Mara: “Navy people are stupid”, and Fijian PM is Navy 

Former Fijian Infantry Commander Lt. Col. Ratu Tevita Uluilakeba Mara 

Tonga Chronicle: Thank you for the interview. Enjoying the stay here? 

Ratu Tevita Mara: Very much. 

Tonga Chronicle: Can you retell the story of your departure from Fiji? 

Mara: Well there’s still a lot of versions from the other side. I’ve been told to write a book about this, the Great Escape. It’s either the Great Escape or the Fishing Expedition. 

As I’ve said, it was a fishing trip. 

The boundary is only twelve miles, its not the two hundred miles limit. I think people are making it out that its two hundred miles from the furthest island there. So any other boat can travel within that twelve mile without intruding into Fiji’s international waters. And that’s what I’ve spoken about. I was out there fishing and I got into troubles. Where I was you couldn’t see land anyway. One of [Tonga’s] boats was in the area. 

As you know, I am not the first case of a person drifting in the Pacific. There’s people drifting from Vanuatu to Fiji, from Kiribati all the way to Fiji, and vice versa. It’s how soon you get picked up. 

Tonga Chronicle: Did you have any company? 

Mara: No, I was on my own. I was dropped off to Kadavu, and then I was on my own. I was rescued between Kadavu and the Ono-i-Lau area. 

Tonga Chronicle: So the issue of sovereignty being intruded is irrelevant? 

Mara: Well, you know, the South Pacific belongs to everyone. So, I don’t know why the issue of sovereignty has come up now. You’ve got the case regarding Minerva Reefs coming up. Now that’s a case of sovereignty. Amongst Fijians, to my knowledge, sovereignty issues between countries in the Pacific is not really an issue. Before, our forefathers traveled on canoes from one island to the other, one country to the other, without any issue at all. 

But I suppose when something like this happens, countries try and bring up the issue of sovereignty as in this case, which is what Fiji is trying to do. 
Tonga Chronicle: So you don’t think the rescue operation breached Fijian sovereignty? 

Mara: No, I don’t think Fiji’s sovereignty was breached. Once in the Tongan patrol boat, I asked the Tongan Captain if I could come to Tonga. Well, I just told them who I was and I requested I be taken to Tonga instead. I think given the distance, it would’ve been halfway for them to go back or to come to Fiji. But I’m thankful they made the right decision and come back to Tonga. 

Tonga Chronicle: There’s also the accusation that you and Tonga pre-arranged the whole affair to flee the sedition charges that had been laid against you in Fiji. 

Mara: That’s an outrageous accusation by Fiji. No one should pay real attention to it. 

Everything that goes against [the Regime], or speaks out against them is “wrong”, dealt with very harshly. The abuse… you don’t believe that sort of thing is happening in Fiji. I’ve spoken to some Tongans here and I’ve told them and they can’t believe it. But it’s happening on a daily basis. If you speak out, you’ll be taken into camp and dealt with, and then taken over to the police. It’s an oppressive regime that doesn’t allow anyone to speak up against them. 

Tonga Chronicle: So your fight is against the regime. 

Mara: My struggle now is to bring democracy back to Fiji. Whether that’s a fight against the regime or to remove the regime. People can interpret it as they want, but I know the people of Fiji want a return to democratic rule as soon as possible. Whether it’s tomorrow, good. If it is today, good. But 2014 is too far away. 

There is a regime that is in Fiji that illegally took over government. There is a regime in Fiji that has no mandate at all to rule the country. They should realize that by now. 

Tonga Chronicle: Since you are in Tonga, how do you see Tonga’s role in this? 

Mara: Look at the situation in Fiji compared to Tonga. You had your democratic elections in November. You’re constitutionally ruled now under a democratic system. That’s what we used to have in Fiji before. Fiji is one of the first modern democratic countries in the region — a model for other countries. But a look at where we are now, we are exactly the model for what no country should be. Its not only bad for Fiji, but bad for the region. It’s a bad reflection. We have to go back to democratic rule. 

I don’t see any particular role for Tonga, because Tonga is part of the Forum, which has condemned the actions in Fiji. So its not only Tonga, it’s the other Forum countries as well. Tonga is also part of the Commonwealth, which has condemned the actions in Fiji. So Tonga is part of the democratic world that has condemned and doesn’t agree with the actions in Fiji. 

This is not something between the two countries. That’s what the regime’s trying to make out to be. This is just between me and Bainimarama. The two countries go way back. This issue is insignificant compared to the relationship that Tonga and Fiji has had. 

Tonga Chronicle: There have been calls for the activation of the Biketawa Declaration. Do you think Tonga and Fiji are potentially in conflict? 

Mara: This is totally unrelated to the declarations under Biketawa. The Biketawa agreement should have been enacted in 2006. They had all the reasons then — the removal of a democratic government, the use of force by the military. 

This issue, my issue and Tonga and Fiji, is not even considered under Biketawa. As the Samoan Prime Minister said, it’s just a storm in a teacup. In fact it doesn’t even call for a strained relationship between Tonga and Fiji. Its far from it. 

The real issue is the oppression in Fiji, by the military regime. And I think it’s an attempt to try to bring this issue up to cover that. 

The real issue that regional countries should take into consideration more seriously is how can you have a military regime, military dictator, operating in the South Pacific. 

This is the fifth year, how can they allow that? You see what’s happening in Libya, what’s happening in Syria. It’s a democratic revolution happening around the world. 

But yet, in the South Pacific we are still dealing with a military dictator. 

Tonga Chronicle: How do you feel about extradition application? 

Mara: I find it very interesting. You know, every law is based upon a Constitution. Fiji had its Constitution abrogated in 2009. So, how is that extradition order valid? 

The second issue is that, through the actions of 2006, we were removed from the Forum, we were removed from the Commonwealth. So any other relationship between Tonga and Fiji under those forums, are invalid. 

So, the question to ask them is, what are they basing their extradition order under? It’s coming from an illegal regime, run by a military dictator. 
Tonga Chronicle: So you think it shouldn’t be recognized at all? 

Mara: It not even worth the paper it’s written on. Although I shouldn’t be saying it, I don’t even think that the government should be looking at it, as a matter of personal opinion. It’s coming from an illegitimate regime. 

Tonga Chronicle: Hypothetically if the Courts are allowed to hear the case, are you going to declare yourself a political refugee? 

Mara: If and when that happens, I’ll think of it. But You’ve got people of stature here running the legal system. And I’m confident it’ll give me a fair trial if it gets to that stage. 

Tonga Chronicle: How do you feel, your family even friends, have been taken into custody in Fiji? 

Mara: As I’ve said, no one knew about it. It was a fishing trip – no one makes elaborate plans for a fishing trip. You just go, and unfortunate things like this happen. These are all borrowed clothes, it was just the clothes I had on when I got here. 

But that’s the mentality of the regime in Fiji. You speak out, and they don’t just go after you, they after your family, your relatives. They go after your village. 

It’s a reincarnation of Muammar Gaddafi happening in Fiji. They have Gaddafi in Libya, we have another Gaddafi, Bainimarama, in Fiji. 

He goes after your whole family. He goes after your friends. Not only that, any business dealings you’ve done. 

Tonga Chronicle: There have been concerns that your stepping out is going to compromise Fijian security. Is that what’s happening? 

Mara: The security issue in Fiji is not a problem for Tonga, especially the military. 

The military issue is a problem for Bainimarama now. He does not have the support of the military and he knows that. The more I reveal what’s happened, the more the soldiers find out the truth, the more these guys coming under threat, and the more he finds himself loosing his grip on power. He’s showing all signs of a person who’s losing grip on power. It’s a sign of a dictatorship, he’s tightening up everywhere. 

He was supposed to tour the Lau Group next month. On Monday, my island I come from, had written a letter to his office telling him that he’s not welcome. On Tuesday the police on the island did an investigation. Now the island people have reacted, and told the police to vacate the island. This is what’s been suppressed. Now the people are showing their emotions and feelings. My coming out of Fiji is an avenue for them, for me to show the oppression and also to express their feelings. 

Since 2006, the people taken up to camp by the military, a hundred percent are Fijian people. That says the Fijian people do not agree with what happened in 2006. 

When he took over power in 2006 the first things he took aside were the Great Council of Chiefs and the Methodist Church. These two are the highest establishment for Fijians and were the most vocal against him taking over. So who does he represent? It begins to question the cause, the motives behind his taking over government. He accuses the SDL government of corruption, but how many Ministers convicted so far? None. 

There are a lot of questions about the real motives behind 2006. 

Tonga Chronicle: You were supporting Bainimarama back in 2006? 

Mara: I was part of the military. As I‘ve admitted we were part of the group under Bainimarama which took over government. At that time it was all genuine. I thought it was a noble cause for the country, moving the country forward. 

He mentioned in his 2007 speech to the nation the Roadpath back to democracy. That was put together by the senior military officers of the Military Council to get rid of corruption and all that, and have elections in 2010. 

But after that speech, he deviated completely from the path that he was supposed to follow. We began to question his motives then. 

In 2009, there was an opportunity for Fiji to go back to democratic rule. But through the legal advice given to him by the Attorney General Khaiyum, he refused to listen to the courts and abrogated the Constitution. So just confirms he’s running an illegal regime. 
Tonga Chronicle: You’ve been vocal of your thoughts on Attorney General Khaiyum. 

Mara: He’s the man behind the Commander deviating from that original plan. I fully believe that he’s responsible for that. He’s been giving legal advice prior to the takeover in 2006. How can he say that the judicial system is independent, if this guy who was part of the planning group to takeover government, is running its judicial system now. 

The first decree they passed after the abrogation of the Constitution, was that you couldn’t challenge any decrees that they put up. That was put out by the Solicitor General Christopher Pryde, and yet he’s saying the Courts are independent. 

My case, which is allegedly sedition, was alleged by an officer which I went with to Korea last year. As a military officer, I should have been charged under the military system, to be Court-Martial. But Bainimarama knew that that would’ve been thrown out by the Court-Martial. He also knew that would’ve unsettled the military. So Khaiyum’s advice was take him out of there and charge him under the civil courts, because he controls the civil courts. 

One week after I got here, Sunday, Bainimarama made an address to the nation regarding my situation here and he mentioned in Fijian, that he has a “club and spear” waiting for me when I go home. That shows the mentality of the man himself. 

I keep telling people they don’t really understand him. 

Tonga Chronicle: What does that mean, “Club and Spear”? 

Mara: What else do you do with a club and spear? I thought we had evolved out of cannibalism. But he’s probably trying to take us back to those times. 

It’s interesting, because in those times, of cannibalism, the great chief from Tonga Ma’afu, who came to Fiji, not only brought Christianity to Fiji, but that’s how Fiji evolved, through Ma’afu. So Tonga plays a major part in Fiji’s modernization. 

This is not the first time that someone came under the protection of the Tongan King. 

During the 18th century there was a chief from Lau, Ratu Cakobau (I’m also related to him), who was conquering all the islands in Fiji. And a chief from there, the Tu‘i Moala, came to Tonga and sought King George’s protection. Ratu Sukuna came in 1960’s to take back a descendent of the Tu’i Moala. So the Tu‘i Moala comes from Tonga all the time. 

Tonga Chronicle: Do you consider yourself under the “protection of the King”? 

Mara: No, I consider myself Tongan. If I’m traveling from Fiji to here, it’s just like traveling within the Fiji group. Or within the Tongan group. Where I come from, the Eastern Province of Fiji, we are very closely related to Tonga. Not only us, the whole part of the province is related to Tonga in many ways. I mentioned the Great Ma’afu. Tonga has played a significant part of Fiji’s history. And I think Tonga together with the other Pacific countries can play also a significant part in bringing democracy back to Fiji. 
Tonga Chronicle: Do you feel safe here in Tonga? There are reports that your yahoo account may have been compromised or hacked. 

Mara: Every now and then you might have found out your computer gets hacked but, as a security issue, Tonga is a peaceful country. 

Tonga Chronicle: How about attempts from back home? 

Mara: Attempts to forcefully extradite me will be uncalled for. And a serious breach of Tongan sovereignty. But then you can never discount things like that happening. Especially if you’re up against a military regime. Everything they do is illegal. But it’s something I don’t seriously consider. 

Tonga Chronicle: How about the Tongan-Fijian community here? 

Mara: I hope to meet them some time this week. Just to share with them what I’m trying to bring out and let the world know. 

Tonga Chronicle: Do you think Bainimarama’s going to let up soon, and give up power? 

Mara: I don’t think he has a choice. He has to. The hand of the law will always catch up to him, sooner or later. The longer he hangs on to this, the more serious he’ll find himself in trouble with the law, the more resentment he’ll find from the people within Fiji, the more problems for the country financially, socially. He should just sit down, take a hard look at himself, and realize it’s unacceptable. 

I think after this interview, if you put your name in there, you better not go back that way. They always do that. They see who did the interview, and if you go back then they’ll… No don’t worry about it. It’ll be good for you if they do anything, then you’ll find out what they’re really doing. 

What is happening in Fiji is reality. Picking up people, torturing people – and its done by the military. And the military is hundred percent Fijian. This guy, he doesn’t realize, he’s turning the military against him too. So I hope to God, it doesn’t turn out to be the situation in 2000 again. He doesn’t realize very soon the military will turn on him. If it turns on him, that’s the end of him. He’ll go out the hard way. He doesn’t have an exit plan. 

What we told him in 2007 — his roadmap to democracy speech — was the exit strategy. Because we were worried about ourselves too. If he gets charged, we get charged. The f@#* idiot didn’t even think about us. That’s the problem when you have a navy officer. Navy people are stupid. Don’t tell your navy. 

Tonga Chronicle: Wasn’t it “the coup to end all coups”? 

Mara: He said it. That came out of Bainimarama’s mouth. But we did not do a proper inquiry into that (2000) coup. If there was a proper inquiry into that coup, it would have stopped this coup. A lot of people were involved. Even this guy has been mentioned as involved in it. He knew it was going to happen, but he went overseas. So this guy has a lot of questions to answer to. Not only 2006, it goes back to 2000. He’s got a heavy burden on his shoulders, not positive but negative burdens. He’s now developed into this, and now has no exit strategy. 

He can’t get himself out of it. He wants to be President. He’s mentioned everywhere he goes that he wants to remove the President. That’s seditious but police don’t charge him. I know why he wants to be President, because he thinks that when the elections happen and he’s President, then he can’t be charged. But, this shows the lack of intelligence in his head. No matter what, he should accept the fact that he will be charged. That’s reality, You don’t do a military coup and run away. Look at South Africa and African countries, after how many years they still come after you. 

The way I see it, he should go back to the people, ask for forgiveness, the Pacific way. The body that could’ve protected him was the Great Council of Chiefs (GCC). That’s the body that protected Rabuka when he did the ‘87 coup. Rabuka was really smart, because he was army, not navy. When Rabuka took over, he quickly handed over to the GCC. So the GCC, the supreme institution for Fijians, said we agree with what he said and done, so we’ll give him immunity. But now, who is he going to get his immunity from. He’s abrogated the Constitution, dismantled the GCC, he can’t go to the church. 

Tonga Chronicle: What’re you’re activities like? Are you going to travel soon? 

Mara: Hopefully soon, travel to New Zealand. Australia has given me an invitation for a pro-democracy seminar or conference in June in Canberra. 

Tonga Chronicle: But all the while in general would you be based? 

Mara: All over the world. I’ll be mobile, well within this first six months, because the message needs to be taken out. 

I told these people, don’t shut the media. Bring the media people in, because they will be the vehicle that would take the message out. What Bainimarama’s done is completely shut the media up. He’s got police and military officers in all the media outlets. Before any news goes out, they read it. Anything bad about the government, throw in the rubbish. But here everything is good. Heavy censoring. 

Tonga Chronicle: Anything else you want to add? 

Mara: There’s just been a lot of talk from my Prime Minister and Attorney General regarding my fishing trip that I turned up in Tonga. There’s been a lot of reaction from them to my media releases and statements I’ve been making. There is absolutely nothing I should be worried about. I am only revealing the truth, nothing else. If they’re reacting to it, then they don’t want the truth to be known. If they’re worried about it, there should be something wrong with them. 


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