Mark Dodd | April 17, 2009
Article from: The Australian
THE federal Government has told the UN it wants a halt on any new hiring of Fijian soldiers serving as peacekeepers on blue-beret missions around the world.
Putting into effect tough new measures threatened against Fiji’s military rulers, Canberra yesterday confirmed it had sought assurances from the UN that it would cease any new hiring of Fijian peacekeepers.
On Wednesday, New Zealand Foreign Minister Murray McCully called on the UN to halt its practice of hiring Fijian peacekeepers because “it sustains the interim regime both in terms of credibility and cash”.
It’s a view backed by the Rudd Government in Canberra.
“The Australian Government remains opposed to any involvement by the Fiji military in any new UN peacekeeping operations,” said a senior official from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade who asked to remain anonymous.
“The involvement of the Fiji military in existing UN peacekeeping operations is a matter for the UN. We (Australia) have made it clear to the UN that the Government would oppose the involvement by the Fiji military in any new UN peacekeeping operations.”
There are at present 282 Fijians serving on peacekeeping missions, including 51 police, eight military observers and 223 soldiers.
Fijians are highly regarded peacekeepers, gaining high praise from Australian and New Zealand army commanders during their deployment to East Timor after the bloody 1999 independence vote.
Their service is a valuable source of remittance funds, in addition to boosting the profile of the Pacific island nation.
In New York yesterday, a spokesman for UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said the world body was aware of Australian and New Zealand concerns about the hiring of Fijian blue berets and the matter was being considered.
“In terms of what that means for peacekeeping, our position holds that we will evaluate any further contributions on a case-by-case basis. And so we stand on that,” he said.
The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, has expressed her deep concern about the recent sacking of the Fiji judiciary and heavy media restrictions.
The long-term damage from undermining such fundamental institutions as the judiciary and the media cannot be underestimated, she said.
Opposition foreign affairs spokeswoman, Julie Bishop, offered qualified support for the Government’s request, warning that if it were implemented, it could hurt ordinary Fijians.
“The Coalition would support a review by the United Nations as to whether it is appropriate for it to continue to accept Fijian troops for peacekeeping operations, as the current regime in Fiji stands to gain substantial financial benefits from these operations,” Ms Bishop told The Australian last night.
Pressure mounted among South Pacific nations yesterday to suspend Fiji from a
key regional group because of the military regime’s latest crackdown.
The head of the 16-nation Pacific Islands Forum, Toke Tufukia Talagi, said Fiji should be suspended immediately; New Zealand backed the idea.