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Commonwealth Envoy to Meet Fiji's Military Rulers

  • Phil Mercer

A senior Commonwealth envoy is holding a series of meetings with Fiji's military leaders as part of renewed international efforts to restore democracy. Former New Zealand Governor-General Paul Reeves is expected to urge the South Pacific nation to reinstate political freedoms and dialogue.

Fiji may have been temporarily cast out of the Commonwealth but the grouping of former British colonies remains keen to offer help and guidance to this troubled corner of the South Pacific.

Paul Reeves, hopes his visit will ensure that the two sides maintain a workable relationship.

In meetings Wednesday and Thursday with Fiji's leaders, he will stress a familiar message - that the government should restore constitutional democracy as soon as possible.

The military will almost certainly offer a polite refusal. It has repeatedly ignored international pressure since it seized power more than two-and-a-half years ago.

The Commonwealth's special representative is expected to hold two days of talks, including a meeting with army chief and interim prime minister, Commodore Frank Bainimarama.

Charities say that poverty and ill-health are rising sharply in Fiji as government money is diverted from social welfare programs to the military.

A community worker in the capital Suva, who was too frightened to divulge her name, says many Fijians are becoming desperate.

"We have people coming here every day at our gate asking for clothes and food, every day coming at the gate," she said. "People that we don't know standing out there [asking] do we have food to spare? That has never happened to Fiji but it is happening now."

In December 2006, troops ousted an elected government, alleging it was corrupt and pursued a racist agenda against Fiji's ethnic Indian minority. Commodore Bainimarama has promised to hold elections within five years following a review of the constitution.

His critics accuse him of behaving like a dictator while the economy slides into recession. Dissidents have been arrested and the news media censored under the military government.

The military administration does have some friends. China has become one of Fiji's biggest foreign donors. Amnesty International has criticized this relationship, saying in a report that China ignores the perilous condition of human rights in the Fijian archipelago.

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