Tonga in sharp criticism of Fiji

MICHAEL FIELD
Last updated 14:05 25/05/2011

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The Tongan Government has launched a sharp verbal attack on neighbouring Fiji.

In strongly worded statement, Tonga's Secretary to Cabinet, Busby Kautoke, has claimed "the full might of Fijian Sea Power" was used to "officially vandalise" a piece of Tonga.

The statement follows the defection last week of a senior member of the Fiji military forces to Tonga.

Fiji's military regime of Voreqe Bainimarama has demanded Colonel Tevita Mara back to face charges along with another soldier that he was plotting to overthrow the regime.

Mara claimed he was rescued by the Tongan navy when he got into trouble while fishing, while Fiji says the Tongan navy intruded into Fiji waters to pick Mara up at Kadavu.

Tonga has not formally replied to the extradition demand but Kautoke issued a statement on a related disputed issue, the sovereignty over the remote Minerva Reefs which are between Tonga, Fiji and New Zealand.

Tonga has claimed them since the 1970s but Fiji last year launched a bid to assert sovereignty.

In an incident reported by Fairfax Media, Fiji navy vessels visited Minerva and ordered New Zealand bound yachts out of the lagoon.

They then destroyed navigation beacons.

Kautoke said much was made over the sovereignty of the incident in picking up Mara, but then pointed to Minerva.

"At this lonely outpost a perfectly innocent navigational beacon, erected on the wishes of our Late King Taufa'ahau Tupou IV for the benefit and safety of mariners, was officially vandalised," Kautoke said.

"Such an act, for example cannot be elevated to the status of a legal argument and there is strong evidence to suggest that the full might of Fijian Sea Power, on the instructions of the military regime, was deployed to attack a defenceless and inanimate object," Kautoke said.

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