Kiwis now vulnerable in Fiji, says ministry

ON HIS WAY: Fiji's acting head of mission, Kuliniasi Savou, arrives at the high commission  in Wellington. He has been ordered to leave the country.
ON HIS WAY: Fiji's acting head of mission, Kuliniasi Savou, arrives at the high commission in Wellington. He has been ordered to leave the country.

Kiwis travelling to Fiji are being advised not to expect any assistance from New Zealand's high commission in the wake of tit-for-tat diplomatic expulsions.

The high commission in Suva is closed indefinitely after New Zealand's head of mission, Todd Cleaver, was declared "persona non grata".

The New Zealand Government retaliated immediately by ordering Fiji's acting head of mission in Wellington, Kuliniasi Savou, to leave the country.

The Foreign Affairs Ministry is warning Kiwis that there is some risk to their security in Fiji, and says the situation there may affect what sort of assistance it can provide if they get into trouble.

Australia has acted in concert with New Zealand by expelling Fiji's recently appointed high commissioner in Canberra, in retaliation for the Australian high commissioner in Suva also being declared persona non grata.

The expulsions followed criticism by Commodore Voreqe Bainimarama of New Zealand's treatment of Judge Anjela Wati, who applied for a waiver on the entry ban on members of the Fijian regime, so as to get treatment for her sick son in Auckland.

Commodore Bainimarama said Judge Wati had been "harassed and humiliated" by the New Zealand high commission and her medical visa included a provision that there be "no shopping" while in the country.

New Zealand immigration officials refused to release the documents. But Foreign Affairs Minister Murray McCully said Judge Wati's case had been handled correctly and promptly. "My own checks have found the criticism is not warranted ... Judge Wati is in New Zealand with her son, who is receiving the medical treatment he requires."

Mr McCully said there were reports that Mr Cleaver had been given just 24 hours to leave Fiji, but he expected Fiji to honour the Geneva Conventions, which allowed diplomats "reasonable" time to get their affairs in order if expelled.

Mr Savou had not been given a set period in which to clear his desk.

New Zealand's high commission in Suva has been closed while the ministry assesses its ability to provide consular functions. "New Zealanders travelling to Fiji should now be aware that the level of assistance the high commission can provide to New Zealand citizens may be affected due to the depleted staff numbers," Mr McCully said.

Mr Cleaver is the third Kiwi diplomat to be told to leave Fiji, after the high commissioner and trade commissioner. But Mr McCully insisted it did not change New Zealand's regard for the Fijian people.

"We regard them as having a government that is not particularly helping them at the moment. To the extent we can work to better that situation we will, but we're not starry-eyed about the prospects of that happening tomorrow."

Judge Wati's son, Kartik, who has a detached retina, is being treated at Starship hospital and the Eye Institute.

The Dominion Post