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Fiji's military: Rebel leader can't be part of new government
June 6, 2000
SUVA, JUNE 5 (AP) - Rejecting one of rebel leader George Speight's key demands for ending Fiji's hostage crisis, the nation's military ruler said Monday that Speight and his followers will be barred from participation in any interim government.
"We have stated that this is impossible," Commodore Frank Bainimarama told local journalists.
Bainimarama said Speight cannot end up in control of Fiji "for one simple reason - there's been a lot of talk of backlash, not only by the local community but by the overseas community if any member
of George Speight and his team is a member of the interim government."
Earlier Monday, a scheduled round of talks between the two sides were scrapped when Speight did not show up as planned at the military barracks where Bainimarama has his headquarters.
There was no immediate response from Speight to Bainimarama's new hard line, but the development made it appear unlikely that Speight would be willing any time soon to free the more than 30 hostages who have been held in parliament since May 19.
Banimarama said that Fiji would face huge problems with its trading partners if Speight or his rebels were to be part of the government.
The latest warning came from the 15-member European Union, which said it would stop buying any Fijian sugar - the tiny nation's top commodity - if Speight were to gain power, Bainimarama said.
Earlier Monday, a military spokesman had said Bainimarama was firmly in control of Fiji and had offered Speight a peace deal that would grant amnest to Speight and six other men who stormed
parliament - although it could not be modified.
Lt. Col. Filipo Tarakinikini said Speight must release his hostages and surrender his arms in return, and Bainimarama would then stay in charge of Fiji until law and order are restored.
After that, Fiji's influential tribal chiefs could play a role in choosing an interim civilian government, Tarakinikini told an Australian television interviewer.
"The military line has been drawn and we have told Mr. Speight and his group that beyond this we are not going to negotiate," Tarakinikini said. "The hostages should be returned, weapons, ammunition returned and the military bring back normalcy back to the whole country."
The military could stay in control for up to three months, Tarakinikini said.
Bainimarama later made it clear that Speight would not play any role in a new government.
Speight spent Sunday airing his latest demands to Fiji's military government - and he said later a new trust was developing but gave no word on when he might free his hostages, including deposed Prime
Minister Mahendra Chaudhry.
Speight said negotiators had held nine hours of "cordial talks" on Sunday, but he offered few details beyond noting that one significant remaining issue is disagreement over how Fiji will be governed once the standoff ends.
"We are well on the way now that the initial barriers of concern have been broken down," Speight told reporters Sunday night, without elaboration. "We have come a long way."
Speight's earlier plan to release his captives over the weekend collapsed Saturday when he accused the military regime of bargaining in bad faith.
Speight has been emboldened by his confidence that the military won't try to rescue the hostages by attacking. And although many of his early goals have been accomplished, including the scrapping of Fiji's constitution and the removal of the president, he came up with more demands Saturday in a nine-point proposal for ending the crisis that would effectively let him pick Fiji's next government.
Tarakinikini on Sunday thanked Fiji's Indian community for showing patience while the hostages are still being held. Chaudhry was Fiji's first prime minister of Indian descent. "We are most grateful they are willing to stand by and allow the army to bring the country to normalcy - then we can begin a
dialogue," Tarakinikini said on a Fijian television current affairs show.
Although Speight claims to represent all indigenous Fijians, many have rallied against him and expressed support for Chaudhry's government.
Fiji's ethnic Indians control many businesses and Speight wants to prevent them from running the country ever again. Rich trading partners including the United States, Australia and New Zealand have threatened to impose economic sanctions if Fiji, 3,620 kilometers (2,250 miles) northeast of Sydney, Australia, doesn't return to democratic rule.