Rebel Leader Admits Manhandling Captive PM

Published: Fri 26 May 2000 09:31 AM
25 May 2000: 5.30pm
By Jilda Shem, Losana McGowan, Christine Gounder, Sheryl Ho, Reggie Dutt, Joe Yaya and Harry Aurere
USP Journalism Programme
SUVA: Rebel leader George Speight has admitted "manhandling" Fiji's captive Prime Minister Mahendra Chaudhry, according to radio reports.
Radio Fiji said today he revealed this while addressing a crowd at the Parliament complex.
The radio reported that he was crying as he told the people gathered around him that he was committed to the safety of the hostages.
After the Great Council of Chiefs meeting ended today, a delegation of chiefs left for the Parliament complex.
Reports by Radio Fiji said the delegation, believed to be led by the deputy chair of the council, Adi Litia Cakobau, would inform Speight and his men of the decision the chiefs had reached at the meeting.
No details of the decisions were immediately available.
The traditional chiefs of the Fiji Islands are "clearly divided" over the six-day-old hostage crisis, Commonwealth Secretary General Don McKinnon said today.
Fiji One television reported him saying as he flew out from Nausori airport as "leaving but not happy".
The report said Mr McKinnon was not pleased with the results of his visit.
"I leave disappointed, disappointed that it doesn't appear to be an easy solution to the hostages. I think by the fact that being here will certainly highlight the concerns and I'm glad I saw the hostages," Mr McKinnon said.
The report added Mr McKinnon held talks with the Great Council of Chiefs and rebel leader George Speight's group in Parliament, warning the consequences of their actions and how the international community would react.
The report also said the chiefs had decided to give Speight a pardon for what he had done and were further discussing ways to work around the constitution to do this.
The submission would then be handed to the President.
However, an earlier report citing law Professor Robert Hughes said that the crimes of treason and kidnapping would need to be prsecuted under the constitution.
Mr McKinnon, who visited the chiefs yesterday, said the mood inside was not good.
"Very clearly divided, and many who obviously would wish to draw back the constitution which they believe gave too much to the other races here in Fiji - towards those who I believe are prepared to look forward, [who] say well this is the way life is, we've got a very good constitution, we fully endorsed it in 1997 and we'll just stay with it." Mr McKinnon said.
Rebel leader George Speight last night refused an appeal by two international envoys for immediate and unconditional release of Fiji's elected government, held hostage for the past six days in the Pacific nation's Parliament.
The envoys last night visited Parliament where gunmen have been holding elected Prime Minister Mahendra Chaudhry and more than 30 of his ministers and MPs prisoner since last Friday.
Commonwealth Secretary Don McKinnon and a personal envoy of the United Nations Secretary-General, Sergio Vieira de Mello, were allowed to see the hostages for about five minutes.
McKinnon said Chaudhry would not resign.
He added that some of the women hostages were overwhelmed with emotion at seeing them, bursting into tears.
McKinnon said: "There is no tolerance these days for the the overthrow of an elected government."
De Mello said that if the rebels' succeeded in their demands, "it would be an unfortunate precedent in the region when we are trying to build democratic institutions in the South Pacific, including East Timor."
At a media conference, a reporter asked whether the visit to the Parliament by the envoys gave "global recognition to a bunch of hoodlums".
McKinnon replied no - they entered the Parliament complex to visit the captive prime minister and the hostages.
The Great Council of Chiefs will continue its discussion on the crisis today after drafting a resolution which includes a change in government, according to media reports.
Reaffirming their support for President Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara's efforts to resolve the crisis, the chiefs have asked him to form an interim government to help run the affairs of state.
They also want a group of Fijian lawyers to look at changes that legally can be made to the constitution and there have been conflicting reports about the possibility of an amnesty for the rebels.
Council chairman Sitiveni Rabuka last night did not confirm details of the draft resolution but said the chiefs would meet this morning to finalise the document.
The Fiji Hardwood Corporation (Fiji) Ltd's premises, a building owned by Opposition MP Jim Ah Koy, was today burnt to the ground.
Joe Rainima, the head of the National Fire Authority, said the cause of the fire was suspected as arson and to his knowledge no one had been arrested in connection with the fire.
Police spokesperson Inspector Sera Bernard said police were still investigating it and could not comment any further.
Fears are held by economists and the business sector for the future of the country's economy.
Seven days into the siege, indications are that the Fiji dollar is likely to devalue.
On Monday, the Reserve Bank of Fiji was forced to clamp down on lending and increase interest rates in a move to restrict the flow of funds out of the country.
With a lot of businesses destroyed by fire and looting on the day of the coup (friday), entrepreneurs are worried about where they will get money from should they want to rebuild.
Police estimated losses to last Friday's rampage through the city of Suva at more than $30 million, which hit the economy and prompted the Reserve Bank to impose strict controls.
"There is a possibility of the Fiji dollar being devalued as another negative effect of the sudden fall in the country's political condition," said chairman of the Fiji Trade and Investment Board James Datta.
"With the damage sustained, it will take about 10 years to build up and to get back to where the economy was before last week," he told reporters.

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