Fiji plotters hoped for NZ aid

MICHAEL FIELD
Last updated 16:20 22/11/2013
Voreqe Bainimarama
JOHN SELKIRK/Fairfax NZ
LEADER: Fiji's military strongman Voreqe Bainimarama.

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Fiji's top military officers who were plotting to topple military dictator Voreqe Bainimarama had hoped New Zealand soldiers would help them, the High Court in Suva has heard.

Brigadier General Pita Driti - one of the troika of soldiers who staged the 2006 democracy-ending coup - is on trial accused of trying to overthrow Bainimarama in 2010.

In a sensational development today, another top general has been named as being the organiser of the plot.

The court was told Driti was to lead a group to seize power just before Christmas 2010 while Bainimarama was in Sudan visiting Fiji United Nations forces.

Several witnesses claim that to achieve this Driti and others wanted New Zealand and Australian soldiers to help them keep Bainimarama from returning to Fiji.

Driti, who denies the charges of sedition and mutiny, said it was not his plan and he did not believe it.

"It was an absurd plan because you have to ensure the support of the foreign forces," Driti told the court, the Fiji Sun reported.

The plotters were also alleged to want to kill Bainimarama's attorney-general, Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum.

He holds around the same number of portfolios as Bainimarama does in the regime administration.

The trial, which has ended hearing evidence today, has taken several sensational turns and the naming of another general involved in the alleged 2010 plot.

The court has now heard that the top military ranked ethnic Indian, Brigadier General Mohammed Aziz, was also involved in the plot.

He has not been charged and political sources in Suva said today he has suddenly left Fiji.

Another soldier, Lieutenant Colonel Tevita Mara, son of the founding president and prime minister Tevita Mara, is also meant to be on trial for sedition and mutiny but he fled Fiji just after the alleged coup and lives in exile with the Tongan royal family.

The trial, which has exposed high levels of infighting in the military ranks, is getting extensive media coverage in Suva. Since 2006 Bainimarama has kept media under tight control and allowed little criticism of his regime.

Many of the names featuring in the reporting as plotting have until now been members of the military council that keeps Bainimarama in power.

The accounts coming out today have led to fears Bainimarama may be pressed to postpone next year's planned democracy restoring elections again.

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Fijivillage website reported Driti has been in the witness box denying he was plotting a coup.

He said it was an idea created by Aziz but Mara was the front for it.

Prosecutor Audrey Campbell-Moffat asked Driti several times why he did not try to stop Mara plotting.

Driti replied that he did not believe it was Mara's plan.

"It was set up by Brigadier General Mohammed Aziz."

He denied evidence from the regime that the plot also involved a plan to kill Sayed-Khaiyum.

Fijivillage quoted him saying he only wanted the attorney general removed due to his corruption. He denied using the word "eliminate".

He said he was a good friend of Sayed-Khaiyum and his wife had been his personal secretary when he worked for an insurance company before the coup.

Fiji  Broadcasting said Driti this morning told the court that Aziz's plan was unworkable - and he had rejected it at the time.

The Fiji Times said Driti has told the court that Aziz drew up five options as part of their plot.

He said the generals and colonels could, under the first option, compile a report about the country's ailing economy and to submit the report to Bainimarama.

They could "sit back and watch" the economy collapse and take actions later or they could ask Bainimarama to remove Sayed-Khaiyum, or they could conduct an internal investigation.

The fifth option was to "take over the government".

Driti said he viewed the fifth option as illegal and unworkable.

He added that if the take over occurred it would "affect the nation's stability".

Driti was asked why he did not report Aziz and Mara to Bainimarama.

"I'm thinking about the two officers' (Brigadier-General Aziz and Mara) career and their families," he said.

"I thought that the buck stopped with me, this will not go any further and that the documents will stop right here in my office."

Closing submissions from prosecution and defence will be given next week.

If convicted, Driti faces a life sentence.

- Fairfax Media

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