Frank Bainimarama names new commander

MICHAEL FIELD
Last updated 18:30 04/03/2014
Frank Bainimarama
DAVID WHITE/Fairfax NZ
LEADER: Fiji coup leader Frank Bainimarama.

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Fiji's military strongman Frank Bainimarama has named a fellow 2006 coup plotter as the next commander of the country's military forces.

Bainimarama, who says he is retiring from the Fiji Military Forces (RFMF) to run in democracy-restoring elections this year, named Land Force Commander Colonel Mosese Tikoitoga to take over.

Meanwhile, the regime has ordered Parliament to move to another building after the elections.

An at times blustering man, Tikoitoga has remained loyal to Bainimarama ever since he was part of the military troika that overthrew a democratic government in 2006.

Tikoitoga last year played a key role in destroying a partially New Zealand-funded new constitution after its writers tried to limit the RFMF role in Fiji civil life.

Constitution drafts were burned and a new constitution was written.

"Let me tell you this, don't mess with the RFMF," Tikoitoga said at the time.

He rejected the proposal that soldiers should not have to follow orders they considered illegal.

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, Tikoitoga said.

"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.

He became better known outside Fiji after he took over as president of the Fiji Rugby Union before to the 2011 Rugby World Cup.

It resulted in Fiji's worst-ever rugby performance and recently the International Rugby Board cut support funding it gave to Fiji over corruption issues.

All four of Fiji's coups have had strong military involvement so the issue of who leads its 3500 active soldiers and 6000 territorials is important to stability.

Tikoitoga will formally take over in a ceremony in Suva tomorrow.

However, the reality will be that Bainimarama will still be the strongman in Fiji and the new military commander will be answering to him.

The ceremony will mark the end of Bainimarama's military life.

Bainimarama joined the Fiji Navy in 1975 as an able seaman, rising to midshipman within a year.

He served with the Chilean Navy, serving on exchange on the sailing ship Esmeralda at the time it was being used by Augusto Pinochet's regime as a base to torture political opponents.

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Unlike the bulk of the RFMF, Bainimarama never served in peacekeeping operations or in combat.

The only hostile fire he experienced was in November 2000 when, in the wake of the George Speight coup, his soldiers mutinied.

He escaped being killed by running down a bank. Three of his soldiers died and five rebels were killed - most of them after they surrendered.

Meanwhile, in an odd move, the military-appointed attorney-general, Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum, yesterday ordered that any new parliament be moved out of its striking Fiji village-style compound in Veiuto in Suva, and return to its original home at the Government Buildings in downtown Suva.

The Veiuto parliament witnessed two coups - 2000 and 2006. The original parliament was seized by RFMF third in command, Sitiveni Rabuka, in an armed coup.

Both assemblies have bullet holes in their ceilings.

Veiuto would now become part of the courts system.

The return to the original parliament meant it was more accessible to the public.

"It is walking distance from the bus stand; it's near the media organisations, closer to town so it provides lots more accessibility to members of the public," Sayed-Khaiyum said.

- Fairfax Media

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