Rabuka's retaliation warning investigated

MICHAEL FIELD
Last updated 16:21, September 5 2014
Sitiveni Rabuka speaks at a Canterbury University's Democracy in the Pacific forum in 2012.
IAIN McGREGOR/Fairfax NZ

Sitiveni Rabuka speaks at a Canterbury University's Democracy in the Pacific forum in 2012.

Fiji police are investigating former coup leader Sitiveni Rabuka for warning of retaliation against Muslims over the fate of 45 Fijian peacekeepers held by an al Qaeda group in Syria.

He warned of reaction in an interview on Radio New Zealand on Wednesday.

"We must also remember that we have a Muslim community in Fiji," Rabuka said.

"[If] anything should happen to the 45 soldiers that are held there, the unsuspecting and the probably undeserving, will bare the brunt of the feelings of the people, [and that] could be the Muslim community in Fiji."

In a statement this afternoon, Fiji police assistant commissioner Rusiate Tudravu said the commissioner, Ben Groenewald, had obtained a copy of the audio. Groenewald had instructed the Criminal Investigation Division to "evaluate the matter".

Tudravu would make no further comment.

The Muslim issue in Fiji is highly sensitive, especially because the country is conducting democracy-restoring elections. Fiji has been under military rule by Frank Bainimarama since 2006. His regime has been strongly supported by Muslims and much of the wider Indian community.

Rabuka told the Fiji Sun that two of the captured soldiers were relatives and that had influenced his comments to Radio New Zealand.

"In the beginning I had choked on my emotions as I thought of Siwa (my nephew) and Panapasa (my cousin's granddaughter's husband of a few months who left straight after the wedding we had in Tailevu)," he said.

"You can make up your own mind on what the (Republic of Fiji Military Forces) RFMF had to say."

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RFMF head General Mosese Tikoitoga called for the police investigation.

"It [Rabuka's warning] is very irresponsible and it closely borders on inciting violence in Fiji," Tikoitoga said.

"We all should condemn this comment and hold Sitiveni accountable."

There are 53,000 Muslims in Fiji, almost all ethnic Indians, and the majority of the 46,000 Muslims in New Zealand are from Fiji.

About 60 per cent of Fiji's Muslims are Sunni followers. Significantly about 4 per cent are Ahmadiyya, who are considered apostates by much of the Islamic world. But key officials in Bainimarama's regime are Ahmadiyya.

The soldiers, now into their eighth day being held prisoner at an unknown location, were part of the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) on the Golan Heights on the Syria-Israel border.

They surrendered to the al Qaeda-linked al Nusra Front while 40 fellow Filipino peacekeepers fought their way out to freedom.

Meanwhile, a furious international row has broken out with claims that the UNDOF commander, Indian Army General Iqbal Singh Singha had ordered the 40 Filipinos and 45 Fijians to surrender.

The United Nations under-secretary for peacekeeping operations Herve Ladsous said that the forces were ordered only "not to shoot" as the Syrian rebels came near.Singha told Indian media the Filipino peacekeepers were "unprofessional" and had endangered the lives of the 45 Fijian peacekeepers.

However, Tikoitoga said his men had surrendered following a direct order from Singha.

"At no stage in an operation would I expect any of my officers not to follow the decisions of the first commander," he said.

"The Filipinos chose to do so and the Philippines Government have supported them for having chosen that path," Tikoitoga said.

"We cannot criticise them for it, nor can we follow the decision they have made, we live by our own ethos of following command," Tikoitoga said.

There is bad blood between Bainimarama and Rabuka. Rabuka was put on trial in 2006, accused of leading a 2000 mutiny against Bainimarama that led to the deaths of eight men.

On the very December 2006 day that Bainimarama staged his coup, Rabuka was found not guilty.

 - Stuff.co.nz