INDEPENDENT NEWS

Chiefs Still Talking Over Fate Of Hostage-Taker

Published: Thu 25 May 2000 10:41 AM
CHIEFS STILL TALKING OVER FATE OF HOSTAGE-TAKER
24 May 2000: 6.30pm
By Jilda Shem, Losana McGowan and Evan Wasuka
USP Journalism Programme
SUVA: Fiji's traditional Great Council of Chiefs were today still debating the future of the captive "people's coalition" government and hostage taker George Speight with the discussion spilling into a third day tomorrow.
Fiji Television reported that the self-proclaimed government of rebel leader Speight had presented proposals while President Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara had put forward his plans for the restoration of constitutional government.
Council Sitiveni Rabuka said the chiefs were also discussing what punishment could face Speight for his armed seizure of Parliament and of hostages who have been held prisoner in Parliament for six days.
Chief Justice Sir Timoci Tuivaga and High Court judge Jone Madraiwiwi also briefed the chiefs on the legal implications.
"As far as the constitution says right now that is the arrangement. That is also part of the discussion tomorrow," Rabuka said after the meeting at the Queen Elizabeth Barracks at Nabua.
The council yesterday backed efforts by the President to end the crisis and return the Pacific country to normal.
Early today, Commonwealth Secretary-General Don McKinnon arrived in Fiji from East Timor for talks over the crisis.
Issues today included the future of the elected government of Prime Minister Mahendra Chaudhry held captive by armed rebels in the Parliament complex and the fate of Speight and his followers.
Rabuka last night said the chiefs were concerned with the lives of the parliamentarians held by the gunmen.
"They are appealing for their release," Rabuka said at a televised media conference after the day-long meeting.
Rabuka said the chiefs dids not recognise the rebel administration set up by Speight and deplored the armed takeover.
Speight's envoys to the meeting made a traditional apology on his behalf for "disrespectful" statements he had made about the council, but not about the insurrection.
Earlier yesterday, two more hostages were released by the gunmen because of ill-health - MPs Michael Columbus, a diabetic, and Nareish Kumar, an asthmatic.
Accompanying them to freedom were two physicians, Dr Prem Adhar and Dr Bhagat Ram, who had attended the detained parliamentarians for two days.
"We gave them moral support and sought moral support from them," Dr Adhar said.
He described Chaudhry as "medically stable" while press reports quoted Acting Coalition Government Leader Ratu Tevita Momoedonu saying the prime minister was suffering from injuries from "third-degree" bashing by the rebels.
Dr Adhar said the two doctors had volunteered to go back to Parliament if needed.
Fiji's future investments now lie in the hands of the President, says economist Dr Wadan Narsey.
In an interview with Fiji TV, Dr Narsey said today that Ratu Mara's actions in the crisis should be constitutional so that investors can retain confidence in the economy.
Dr Narsey said that action taken "should be done within the constitution and it must be done with the full agreement and consensus of the major parties in parliament including the Peoples Coalition."
"Otherwise the message going out to the world is that any small group of people who want political power, if they can get the support of a small army unit and if they can bring in their villages from their provinces can hold a government and a whole country to ransom," added Dr Narsey.
Great Council of Chiefs chairman Sitiveni Rabuka says he believes Fiji's Mahendra Chaudhry government held hostage by rebel gunmen has not failed indigenous Fijians.
He admitted this in a media conference called last night to announce the decision of the council to support the President's steps to return Fiji to
ENDSconstitutional rule.

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