Don't rush to lift sanctions - deposed Fiji PM

Last updated 00:00 18/10/2007

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Fiji's deposed prime minister Laisenia Qarase today urged New Zealand to keep the pressure of sanctions on his country's military government until elections are held.
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Yesterday Fiji's military leader Commodore Voreqe (Frank) Bainimarama called on Australia and New Zealand to lift sanctions against Fiji after he committed to elections in the first quarter of 2009.

New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark says New Zealand may ease back on santions if the leader establishes a clear roadmap towards elections.

Previously Cdre Bainimarama, who seized power in a coup last December, had only agreed in principle to elections by that date.

Mr Qarase said today he was "happy" about the commitment.

"It is also good to note that the commander has given the assurance that the military forces here will accept the outcome of the next elections," he told Radio New Zealand.

However, New Zealand should not let up on sanctions yet.

"They have been very effective, I would rather see they remain until the elections are over."

Miss Clark is taking a cautious approach to Cdre Bainmarama's promise but said if progress was made towards elections some sanctions could be lifted.

She said said there had been frank discussion between forum leaders "and the leaders would not have settled for anything less than an absolute acceptance of the timetable (for elections) for no later than the first quarter of 2009".

Miss Clark said the New Zealand Government could "ease back" on its sanctions once it saw credible benchmarks met on the yet-to-be established roadmap.

"But we're not easing back on promises. We need to see a roadmap. We need to see benchmarks met."

Travel sanctions have been the most sensitive with those related to the military leadership unable to travel through New Zealand. Most recently New Zealand recently denied entry to Fiji's top soccer goalkeeper because his father-in-law was linked with the military regime causing Fifa to postpone the World Cup qualifier match.

Cdre Bainimarama yesterday told reporters "everything that needs to be done to prepare ourselves for the election have been done completely".

A Boundaries Commission had been set up and a census done.

"What else do they want? People come up and tell me you have to show us concrete steps – what further steps?"

Cdre Bainimarama has also talked of setting up a people's charter but Miss Clark said some were concerned this may be a "back door" way of amending the constitution.

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Cdre Bainimarama said elections would be held by March 2009.

"I and my government are committed to and have a vision of, amongst other things, a truly democratic Fiji in which there is no institutional racism, in which every person's vote has the same value as the other," he said.

Mr Qarase thought elections could have happened sooner but was pleased that progress appeared to being made.

Asked if he trusted Cdre Bainimarama, Mr Qarase said: "We have to give him the opportunity.

"I know the interim government haven't met some of the undertakings before. I'd like to hope this time round Mr Bainimarama will keep the undertaking as far as our next general election is concerned."

- NZPA

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