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Fiji: 15 Soldiers Found Guilty of Mutiny - 2002-11-06

In Fiji, a military court has found 15 soldiers guilty of an attempted mutiny in the aftermath of the country's 2000 coup. This is the first time Fijian soldiers, many of who take part in U.N. peacekeeping operations, have been found guilty of mutiny. The 15 soldiers were members of the elite special forces, the Counter Revolutionary Warfare Unit.

All 15 convicts could face a firing squad when members of the six-man military panel return to hand down their sentences.

The soldiers were convicted of attempting to overthrow the army's senior commander, Commodore Frank Bainimarama, six months after the May 2000 racially-inspired coup which deposed the country's first ethnic Indian prime minister. The army commander was forced to flee the barracks at the height of the fighting and eight people were killed.

The army has had a role in the chaos Fiji has endured in recent years. Disaffected sections of the military were involved in the coup and helped storm the Parliament alongside coup leader George Speight. The rebels, who stole a vast arsenal of weapons from the military, ousted the elected government of the ethnic Indian prime minister, claiming all non-Fijians should be stripped of political participation.

Speight is serving a life sentence for treason. His accomplices are also in prison for their part in the uprising.

Fiji has been rocked by three coups since 1987, fueled by a fear among native Fijians that the economically powerful Indo-Fijians would gain political dominance. The islands' former colonial ruler, Britain, brought ethnic Indians to Fiji in the late 1800s to work on sugar plantations and they now make up 44 percent of the population.