Fiji's Bainimarama defiant: We go alone

Fiji military coup leader Voreqe Bainimarama has defied the Pacific Forum and said his nation will go it alone.

"Fiji's people need to realise that in going forward as a nation, we may have to paddle our canoes on our own," he said in a speech to the nation.

The 16-nation Pacific Forum, meeting in Niue, this week gave Fiji an ultimatum saying it had to hold elections by March next year or risk suspension from the body.

Bainimarama, who staged a coup in 2006, has strongly rejected the threat.

"We are a sovereign nation," he said.

"Each one of the us as the citizens of this country, must now ask: are we going to be bullied and pressured into doing things that are clearly not in our national interest?

"If we succumb to such pressures, what next? What will that do to our self-worth as an independent nation?"

Bainimarama boycotted the forum saying it was under the control of Australia and New Zealand.

"You all are aware of the high level public posturing by the Leaders of the two countries, both days before the Forum meeting and after they learnt that Fiji will not be in the Niue meeting," he said.

"The Pacific Island countries will need to be vigilant to protect the forum organisation becoming a foreign policy tool of these two countries," Bainimarama said.

"They now seem to have usurped the moral leadership of the region.

"Against this background, and the situation which Fiji is in now, Fiji's people need to realise that in going forward as a nation, we may have to paddle our canoes on our own."

In a lengthy speech, characterised by long rambles about the way the world was harsh on Fiji, Bainimarama condemned critics of his "People's Charter" which is supposed to end what he sees as race based elections.

He calls them "Peoples Charter rejectionists" and says they "thrived on divisive policies".

Killing off prospects of an election by next March, he said the country needed to adopt his charter before going to elections.

NZ HAS PLANS FOR MILITARY EVACUATION OF FIJI

The New Zealand and Australian military have in place contingency plans to evacuate citizens from Fiji with or without the Fijian Government's permission, Defence Minister Phil Goff said today.

Mr Goff met his Australian counterpart Joel Fitzgibbon in Wellington today, with Fiji high on their formal meeting's agenda.

Mr Goff told journalists afterwards that since the military coup in December 2006 both Australia and New Zealand defence forces had a joint plan to evacuate people if the security situation deteriorated and nationals of both countries were in danger.

"We don't expect the situation to deteriorate. . . but we would be remiss in our duty not have a plan in place in the event the situation did deteriorate," Mr Goff said.

The preferred option would be to get people out using commercial airlines, but the military would have to act if this was not possible.

"If however the airport at Nadi was closed then we would have to consider whether a military evacuation by air or by sea was necessary," Mr Goff said.

"We would work with what ever government was in place in Fiji to try to get their concurrence. If that was not possible then in the last instance, the lives and the well-being of our citizens would be paramount, and we would do it with or without that concurrence."

Mr Goff said neither country believed that a military option would be a solution to the political problems in Fiji.

Pacific leaders yesterday warned Fiji's unelected government it could be suspended from the Pacific Islands Forum if it did not meet its promise to hold elections by March next year.

Fiji has been ruled by self-appointed prime minister Commodore Voreqe (Frank) Bainimarama since he staged a bloodless coup in December 2006.

Last year he promised forum leaders he would hold elections by March 2009, but in recent weeks he has gone back on his word, saying he first wants to change the country's electoral system.

Forum leaders yesterday said the situation in Fiji would continue to be monitored and a ministerial contact group would prepare a new report on election preparations before the end of the year.

When that report had been received there would be another forum summit meeting where measures, including suspension, would be considered, they said.

Cdre Bainimarama refused to attend the Niue meeting, claiming he had been denied the opportunity to hold post-summit talks in Auckland because of travel sanctions imposed by New Zealand.

Prime Minister Helen Clark has rejected his excuse.

Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd yesterday said that for the first time the forum had directly condemned Cdre Bainimarama's actions.

The forum was established in 1971 and no country has been suspended.

Fiji has been a key member and the organisation is based in Suva.

- with NZPA

Fairfax Media