New Zealand steps in with cyclone aid

Last updated 10:29 18/12/2012

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Fiji's request for assistance after Cyclone Evan comes days before New Zealand appoints a High Commissioner to the island, signalling an improvement in the relationship.

Fiji made a formal request for assistance overnight and Foreign Affairs Minister Murray McCully says the Government is happy to help.

The island nation faced the full brunt of Cyclone Evan last night, as it ripped buildings apart and littering debris throughout the streets and coastline.

McCully will announce this afternoon what further assistance New Zealand will offer to Samoa, which was struck by the cyclone on Thursday.

The Government initially offered $50,000 and sent an Air Force Orion to search for eight people, who remain missing.

The assistance package is expected to run into the millions, with Samoa's Government estimating the damage to cost about $200m.
What assistance New Zealand will provide to Fiji depended on assessments, McCully told Radio New Zealand.
"They've made it generally known to us that they think they're going to need some help and obviously the precise nature of that will depend on assessments...clearly some cash support is going to be required."
New Zealand's relationship with Fiji has improved throughout 2012, McCully said.
"We've been looking for ways to try and smooth the relationship and put New Zealand and Australia in a position where we can best help the flow of events towards democracy."
Travel sanctions placed on some Fijians with links to the Government and 2006 coup have been eased, with Fiji's foreign minister often travelling to or through New Zealand.
"Many people who were subject to quite strict restrictions now have those eased, some people their situation has changed...those who are looking to be helpful towards the democratisation process we've tried to ease the restrictions on," McCully told RNZ.
"We've wanted to send an overriding signal that if they want to civilianize their government then we're going to make sure the travel sanctions don't stand in their way."
The appointment of a High Commissioner has been delayed due to the cyclone, but was likely to be announced before the end of the year - another signal of stronger ties between the two countries.
Fiji's military leader Voreqe Bainimarama overthrew Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase in a coup in 2006.

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