McCully wades in to Fiji debate

Last updated 10:13 03/01/2013

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New Zealand is concerned at the way Fiji police seized copies of a draft constitution and burnt them, Foreign Minister Murray McCully says.

The document, which remains secret in Fiji but has been widely leaked, calls for the country's military to have a much-reduced role in politics.

McCully, speaking today on Radio New Zealand (RNZ), said it was vital the military returned to their barracks after promised elections next year and became a normal army as seen in other democracies.

Commodore Voreqe Bainimarama, head of the Republic of Fiji Military Forces, has ruled Fiji by decree since a coup in 2006.

As part of a promise to hold elections by 2014, the regime established a commission to draw up Fiji's fourth constitution, led by Kenyan academic Yash Ghai. New Zealand contributed $500,000 towards the cost of the exercise.

Last month Ghai presented the draft constitution to Fiji President Epeli Nailatikau.

He later had 600 copies printed by the Government Printer but as they were doing it, police arrived and seized printer's proofs, dowsed them in kerosene and set fire to them.

The police say the other copies were not destroyed but are locked away.

Yesterday Fiji's Land Force Commander Colonel Mosese Tikoitoga made it plain the military did not like Ghai's constitution and would oppose it.

Last night Ghai said the dissemination of the commission's work was for them alone and added that the ban on publishing the constitution had led to leaks of various versions.

"The authentic, and the only valid, documents are those that I presented to the president," he said.

"I have therefore decided on my own responsibility to release copies of the authentic documents to the public."

McCully said he had been talking to Fiji Foreign Minister Inoke Kubuabola to get an understanding of what was happening.

"We should just wait and study the document. These developments are of concern to us," he told RNZ.

"We are watching carefully just to see how this plays out. What we have discovered in Fiji is that sometimes these situations are a bit more complex than they appear on the surface."

McCully said it was crucial to get an internationally respected constitution in place and for the elections next year to be recognised as free and fair.

"This is a pivotal time and we need to take this step by step," he said.

One of the big hurdles would be to get the military out of politics after the elections.

"The military need to accept the results of that elections and that means they have to go back to the barracks and play the normal role the military play in a democratic society."

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McCully said there had been positive developments in Fiji but now and again there seemed to be significant steps backward.

"We will take very close interest in this," he told RNZ.

"I have already been in text communications with my counterpart to make sure we can pick up the conversation in the new year."

- Stuff

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