Former Fiji army chief blasts troop build-up
By Geraldine Coutts for Radio Australia
As 600 new soldiers and police graduated in the Fijian capital of Suva on Friday, a former head of Fiji’s land forces questioned the need for a recruitment boost in the struggling nation.
On parade were 460 military and 120 police graduates, the soldiers adding to Fiji’s already sizeable armed forces.
Colonel Jone Baledrokadroka, now a visiting fellow at the Australian National University, said Fiji’s economic state was dire.
“The country can ill afford at the moment a huge intake of soldiers, given its economic plight. The country is going bankrupt,” he said.
“The last three years, they have busted their military budget. There is no accountability. There have been huge budget blowouts since this regime has been in power.
“It’s a huge drain on the national coffers, this recruitment.”
Colonel Baledrokadroka noted the interim regime has given as a major focus the ending of ethnic tension and imbalance in Fiji.
“The rhetoric coming out of this regime, especially (interim prime minister Frank) Bainimarama, is that it’s all for stamping out racism,” he said.
“I guarantee over 90 per cent of these soldiers and policemen will be indigenous Fijians.
“So [it’s] probably the most racist organisation in Fiji at the moment. To say it’s all done in the name of stamping out racism – the coup of 2006 – is all a lie.
“The man has been living on lies the last three years or so.”
Colonel Baledrokadroka, who also once headed Fiji’s peacekeeping missions for the United Nations, said the last big recruitment drive he remembered was after the 1988 coup under Sitiveni Rabuka.
“As far as I’m concerned, this huge recruitment is just part and parcel of a dictator’s ways for holding on to power,” he said.
He predicted it would also mean the military budget accounting for at least 10 per cent of government expenditure.
The former military chief said the Fijian regime had justified the recruitment drive as needed to boost numbers in Fiji’s peacekeeping forces overseas.
He found it ironic that it is an undemocratic country now taking part in peacekeeping overseas.
“International pressure needs to be put on the Fijian military. This is one of the ways of putting pressure on the military, by banning it from peacekeeping,” he said.