Thaw in New Zealand - Fiji Govt relations
KATE CHAPMAN AND TRACY WATKINS
New Zealand may drop sporting sanctions against Fiji and ease other travel bans after a top-level meeting aimed at thawing diplomatic relations.
Foreign Minister Murray McCully confirmed after a meeting with his Australian and Fijian counterparts that New Zealand would reappoint a high commissioner to Fiji and relax travel sanctions affecting members of its government. He would also ask Cabinet to consider dropping the long-standing sporting sanctions.
The meeting in Sydney yesterday built on the Pacific Islands Forum ministerial contact group's recent visit to Fiji, attended by Mr McCully, Australian Foreign Minister Bob Carr and hosted by Fijian Foreign Minister Ratu Inoke Kubuabola.
Fiji has committed to democratic elections in 2014 and Mr McCully said the change to travel sanctions would ease that process.
"They have consistently pointed to the fact the travel sanctions are a major obstacle to them getting some able people to serve in the government as permanent secretaries or minister, yet those are desirable developments to take place in the context of their step toward elections. So we've said we will have a more flexible approach to the sanctions regime but we won't be actually changing the sanctions themselves, just give more room for exemptions."
He also indicated New Zealand would look again at sporting sanctions and would be more flexible about removing people from the banned list. "In fact, I've been giving a large number of exemptions, so the practical impact of that policy has been not too much different from Australia."
The sanctions were put in place after a military coup led by Frank Bainimarama in 2006. They prevent members of the self-appointed government and their families, as well as sports teams, from travelling to New Zealand.
Mr McCully said New Zealand's sanctions were more stringent than Australia's and the changes would bring the two in line. Improvements had been made in Fiji but there were still concerns about human rights, media freedom and progress on holding democratic elections.
It would take some time to appoint a high commissioner and Mr McCully said he did not have anyone in mind.
The Foreign Affairs and Trade Ministry has a team of four based in Suva but there has not been a high commissioner since Michael Green was expelled in 2007; his successor, acting high commissioner Caroline McDonald, was expelled a year later; and acting deputy high commissioner Todd Cleaver in 2009.
Meanwhile, Fiji's last democratically elected prime minister, Laisenia Qarase, has been found guilty of nine corruption linked charges.
Qarase was overthrown in the 2006 coup.
The nine charges relate to Qarase's time as a director of Fijian Holdings Ltd.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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