Fiji's army boss sends warning shot

MICHAEL FIELD
Last updated 10:51 07/01/2013

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Fiji's military has bluntly rejected a proposed constitution that would have forced soldiers back to the barracks and weakened the power of the Fiji Military Forces (RFMF).

"Let me tell you this, don't mess with the RFMF," the military's No 2, Land Force Commander Colonel Mosese Tikoitoga said.

He has even rejected a clause in the draft constitution that would have permitted soldiers to disobey illegal orders, such as taking part in a coup.

Tikoitoga told the Fiji Sun that soldiers should obey all orders, right or wrong.

The RFMF was responsible for Fiji's four coups and its commander Voreqe Bainimarama runs the country, after overthrowing the democratic government in 2006.

Bainimarama has promised to hold elections next year and as part of the process had a new draft constitution drawn up by Kenyan academic Yash Ghai after public submissions. New Zealand paid $500,000 towards the cost of the document.

Ghai last month presented the draft to President Epeli Nailatikau but when he tried to print extra copies, the military regime sent police in to seize them, and set fire to the printer's proofs.

Leaked copies revealed that the new constitution would significantly downgrade the military from any role in political life. It would also be smaller and have no role in internal security.

Tikoitoga's hardline response would deepen concern over Fiji's future direction. Last week New Zealand Foreign Minister Murray McCully said he had fears about what was happening in the country.

Tikoitoga, who was effectively in active day-to-day command of the military, rejected the proposal that soldiers should not have to follow orders they consider illegal.

He said that whether orders were right or wrong, they had to be obeyed and whoever gave the order would be responsible if questions arose over the order.

"Soldiers sign an oath to follow orders and they will at all times abide by it," he said.

He rejected any downsizing of the RFMF, which can call on up to 10,000 soldiers, saying cuts would not happen.

Tikoitoga said the military were cleaning up the government system and would not stop.

"There is no turning back," he said.

The draft constitution, which if enacted would become Fiji's fourth since independence in 1970, was to go to a constituent assembly later this month for approval.

Its members would be handpicked by Bainimarama who has not commented on the draft.

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