Fiji concerns prevent talks

A GROUPING of Pacific nations has cancelled a leaders’ summit in Fiji over concerns about a lack of democratic reform.

The Melanesian Spearhead Group called the move a “collective decision” and urged Fiji’s military ruler Frank Bainimarama to attend talks in Vanuatu to discuss the matter.

“There are basic fundamental principles and values of democracy and good governance that our organisation is built on and we must continue to uphold them,” Vanuatu Prime Minister Edward Natapei, the current MSG chairman, said in a statement.

The MSG, which groups Fiji, Vanuatu, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands and nationalists from the French territory of New Caledonia, was due to meet this month under a rotational system of hosting and chairing summits.

But the MSG had been concerned over having the talks led by Fiji, which last month announced a media crackdown which will effectively close its oldest and biggest newspaper, the Fiji Times. “This is a collective decision of the leaders . . . in light of the current impasse within the grouping over the chairmanship of the MSG,” Mr Natapei said.

Mr Bainimarama overthrew the elected government in 2006 in a bloodless coup and has postponed democratic elections until 2014, earning widespread condemnation abroad.

Fiji is already suspended from the commonwealth and the 16-nation Pacific Islands Forum and has been hit with sanctions by the EU and countries including the US, Australia and New Zealand.

Mr Natapei’s statement, issued over the weekend, contrasts sharply with MSG’s communique last year, when it backed Fiji’s government and its “roadmap” towards democracy.

The statement said Fiji’s preparations for the talks were at an advanced stage, but added the “potential long-term ramifications of allowing Fiji to chair the MSG this time cannot be ignored”.

“I have also advised Commodore Bainimarama of our decision and invited him to attend a special meeting of the MSG leaders here in Vanuatu to resolve this matter,” Mr Natapei said.

Mr Bainimarama also sacked the judiciary and expelled diplomats from Australia and New Zealand last year, heightening criticism of his regime.

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