McCully mum on Fiji envoy reports

BY KIRAN CHUG
Last updated 11:04 22/01/2010

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LATEST: The Government is refusing to comment on reported plans by Fiji to send a high-ranking military officer to serve at its high commission in Wellington.

The move would test a New Zealand travel ban on members of Fiji's military-led regime, and comes after an announcement by Foreign Minister Murray McCully that the two countries would seek to boost diplomatic links.

Both countries have agreed to post an extra counsellor to their high commissions, but the move has sparked calls by Amnesty International for the New Zealand Government to address human rights abuses in the renewed negotiations.

Fijian news website Fijivillage has reported that the permanent secretary for information and military spokesperson was nominated by the Fiji Government to take up a counsellor's post in New Zealand.

The website reported that Lieutenant Colonel Neumi Leweni was now "awaiting word" from the New Zealand Government in response to his nomination.

A travel ban on members of the military regime has been in place since the 2006 coup by Commodore Voreqe Bainimarama.

A spokeswoman for Mr McCully said he would not comment on the reports that Colonel Leweni had been nominated to serve at the Fiji high commission in Wellington.

She said Mr McCully was aware of the Fijian news reports, but it was convention not to comment on diplomatic appointments while discussions were under way.

Mr McCully was unavailable yesterday, but has said appointing extra staff at the high commission would signal a change in policy towards Fiji.

The announcement led Amnesty International Pacific researcher Apolosi Bose to urge New Zealand to use the opportunity of renewed dialogue with Fiji to raise concerns about what he said was a "recent intensified crackdown" on opponents of the Fijian regime.

"With Fiji cracking down even harder on its own people, this is not the time for New Zealand and other countries in the region to back down from their strong stance. They must intensify their calls for Fiji to immediately halt arbitrary arrests, intimidation, threats, assaults and detention of critics of the regime."

A spokeswoman for Mr McCully said human rights issues always formed a part of diplomatic discussions.

Meanwhile, a diplomatic expert says New Zealand should not overreact to an inappropriate proposed Fijian appointment to its high commission in Wellington.

Former New Zealand diplomat Terence O'Brien, whose postings included being New Zealands' Ambassador to the UN, said New Zealand should not get into a public and destructive spat with Fiji over the proposed appointment.

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"I think the New Zealand Government has constructively tried to reopen diplomatic contact with Fiji. This on the face of it (if true) is certainly pretty provocative," Mr O'Brien told Radio New Zealand.

"The problem stems from the context in which all these problems have arisen with Fiji - over our deep objection to the military coup and to the way the administration is developing in that country. You have to see it in that context and New Zealand needs to make its position firmly clear."

Mr O'Brien said New Zealand had tried to be constructive and urged a calm approach.

"I think New Zealand should try to keep its powder dry, no overreaction and quietly if necessary inform the Fijians the appointee is not acceptable to us.

"It has to be done quietly. These sorts of matters are handled better in that way, that of course does not mean the Fijians themselves might not react, that Commodore Bainimarama might not react publicly. But New Zealand should continue as far as it can to adopt the quiet approach."

He said more progress could be made in a low key way avoiding exaggerated public comment that marked earlier dealings.

- The Dominion Post

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