THE BUGLE BOY AND THE DENTIST

Fiji envoy for NZ after olive branch

  • Rowan Callick, Asia-Pacific editor
  • From: The Australian
  • January 27, 2010 12:00AM

FIJI’S military-installed government plans to send its controversial spokesman, Lieutenant Colonel Neumi Leweni, to work at the high commission in Wellington.

This appears to be the surprise response of Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama to an olive branch from New Zealand Prime Minister John Key.

Over Christmas, Mr Key sought to defuse the months-long standoff between the governments, suggesting that each reappoint senior staff to their high commissions.

In November, Commodore Bainimarama expelled the New Zealand and Australian high commissioners, and the two countries reciprocated, sending back Fiji’s high commissioners.

New Zealand and Australia have trenchant travel bans in place, which prevent senior military personnel in Fiji – such as Colonel Leweni – and their families from entering either country. Granting Colonel Leweni diplomatic status could raise questions about the efficacy and consistency of the bans.

Mr McCully said: “The governments have agreed to an additional counsellor position being established for Fiji in Wellington, and for New Zealand in Suva, with approval in principle for deputy head of mission appointments in each capital to follow soon.”

Canberra, which has not engaged in such dialogue with the Fiji regime, will be watching this process with interest.

Former senior New Zealand diplomat Terence O’Brien commented on the prospect of Colonel Leweni being sent to Wellington: “This on the face of it is certainly pretty provocative.

“I think New Zealand should try to keep its powder dry, no over-reaction, and quietly if necessary inform the Fijians the appointee is not acceptable to us.”

Colonel Leweni announced recently: “We will stop pension payments to all those who speak against the government.”

The colonel’s wife, dentist Tokasa Leweni, was named head of Fiji’s department of women 18 months ago.

Amnesty International’s Pacific researcher Apolosi Bose said: “With Fiji cracking down even harder on its own people, this is not the time for Australia, New Zealand, and other countries in the region to back down from their strong stance.

“They must intensify their calls for Fiji to immediately halt arbitrary arrests, intimidation, threats, assaults and detention of critics of the regime.”

Army land force commander Pita Driti said this month: “There are only a few people who could be termed as adversaries – but I would discourage them from doing anything otherwise they will be in for something really hard.”

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