Fiji's return to democracy checked

MICHAEL FIELD
Last updated 09:25 14/02/2014

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Fiji's promise to hold democracy-restoring general elections this year is coming under the spotlight today as New Zealand and Australian foreign ministers visit Suva to check progress.

"We want to take a glass-half-full approach," Foreign Affairs Minister Murray McCully, said.

His visit as part of a Pacific Forum delegation, comes as the country's leader Frank Bainimarama is in the last weeks of his role as commander of the country's military forces.

He seized power from a democratically elected government in 2006 and failed to keep a promise to hold elections in 2009.

Bainimarama says he will also create a political party ahead of planned September elections and will run for prime minister.

Since 2006 the regime and military officials have faced a range of sanctions but McCully has begun to ease them ahead of elections he now believes will take place.

"All the reports I have had suggest good progress is being made," he told Radio New Zealand.

He wanted to recognise progress by moving the relationship in a positive direction.

With Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, and delegates from Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Tuvalu and Vanuatu, the forum group will meet a range of regime and opposition groups.

"We are there not to judge, but to get an impression," McCully said.

Bainimarama has not previously met Forum delegations but will hold talks with Bishop.

She said in a statement she wanted to find "ways we can build the bilateral relationship into a dynamic and productive partnership".

"I hope to be part of a very constructive discussion and the Fijian authorities to normalise our relations as Fiji transitions back to democratic rule," Bishop said.

But military-appointed Attorney-General Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum, who appears to have no post-election role, has accused Australia of engaging in "cocktail diplomacy".

Sanctions still remained against Fiji.

"There's a lot of people getting invited to cocktails etc but cocktails do not mean that all the issues are being addressed," he said.

"We're not actually hanging out to be invited to cocktails."

Amnesty International has called on McCully to raise Fiji's "backward steps" on human rights.

Recent incidents highlight Fijian authorities' attempts to limit free speech, the right to protest and the targeting of non-government organisations, trade unions and political parties, restricting public debate in an election year, the human rights watchdog said.

"In February last year, a video was released online showing the torture and sexual assault of two men, apparently by security forces," Amnesty said.

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"So far police have failed to independently investigate the incident."

- Stuff

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