Former Fiji cabinet minister Samisoni Speight Tikonisau, and an Australian citizen of Fiji origin, Apisai Tawake, have both publicly stated they were beaten by uniformed soldiers at the Queen Elizabeth barracks in Suva recently.
But Colonel Mosese Tikoitoga, Commander of Land Forces, accuses those who are making these statements of making them up to further their own political agenda.
Presenter: Bruce Hill
Speaker: Colonel Mosese Tikoitoga, Fiji Military Forces Commander of Land Forces
TIKOITOGA: Well you know there has been a lot of allegations of this happening for a while. I could recall these allegations has been made since 1987 when the first coup happened. But you know these allegations are just merely that, they are allegations. If people have anything they want to complain about I think there is a legal system that they should go through instead of airing their complaints in the media where it just doesn't count. I think it should be heard in a court of law if people want to do that there is a legal system in place that they could voice their concerns on.
HILL: There have been a lot of these reports and one gentleman, Mr Apisai Tawake signed a statutory declaration about what happened to him. We've had these reports from Samisoni Speight Tikonisau. Why are all these stories coming out, are you saying that people are just making them up?
TIKOITOGA: My friend there is a lot of accusations on the government by the same people who have continued to propagate against government activities here in Fiji, and unfortunately like I said they are airing their grievances in the wrong forum. However I would be the first to testify that the military forces are not taking the lead in any investigations or any arrests. Any investigations or arrests in Fiji now are being handled by the Fiji police force. They do need help every now and again and under the Public Emergency Regulations that are in place in Fiji; the Fiji military forces does go out and help impose arrests where the police want our help, and we have done that. But we've handed over all the people that we got and given to the police, and the police take the lead in the investigation which is the right thing to do. I'm not sure where the complaints are coming from.
HILL: So are you saying that nobody has ever been taken up to military camps and assaulted by soldiers ever?
TIKOITOGA: There's no assault or implications or confirmations of any assault. But you would understand it better, there would be some minimal force used if people receive arrests. The mere fact that they have disobeyed the Public Emergency Regulations is testimony to the fact that they have different agendas. And when the police want those people apprehended and ask for military help then we go in and with the police to make those arrests.
HILL: But people aren't actually taken up to the barracks?
TIKOITOGA: Well no, if they are brought up to the barracks with the police, the police lead the investigations on this and they are the best people to answer those questions.
HILL: Why would these people make all these things up about being beaten by the military?
TIKOITOGA: You tell me mate, I am lost for words on that one as well. They would be the best to know why they are making those allegations.
HILL: Is the Fiji military the type of military that would engage in this kind of thing or would that really undercut the military ethos, the code of honour that soldiers need to live by?
TIKOITOGA: We've moved away from that, we've moved away from all that. Like I said the police are now in control of all the law and order situation in Fiji. The police take the lead in all investigations, the police are the ones that are doing the questioning of all those who need to be questioned by law. The military plays no part in the law and order situation in Fiji at home, however we are on standby to help the police when they need our help. And under the Public Emergency Regulations that's in order.
HILL: You're the Commander of Land Forces, you're a very senior officer, is it possible that there might be some rogue soldiers or a rogue unit perhaps doing this kind of thing and not telling the senior officers?
TIKOITOGA: Fiji is too small for that to happen. Anything that happens in Fiji would be known by other people. If that's happening within the military, if there's a rogue element within the military I tell you, it would be common knowledge by now, but there is nothing of that sort.
HILL: There was supposed to be a demonstration at Albert Park on Friday last week and it was called off, the organisers say because there was a very heavy military and police presence. Was there a big police presence at Albert Park ahead of this alleged demonstration?
TIKOITOGA: I've never heard of that alleged demonstration. Like I said the Public Emergency Regulations that are in place now would require anyone who wants to hold such public meetings to make an application to the Fiji police force. And if they assess that it was not safe to do so they would not allow the process to go on, instead of trying to saturate the place it would be easier to say that the meeting won't go ahead because of associated risks. But I didn't hear of any demonstration, neither were we involved in trying to saturate the area. Like I said there's a Public Emergency Regulation in place that doesn't allow for the gathering of the public.
HILL: These allegations have been made in the overseas media in particular, a lot of people outside seem convinced this is the sort of thing that's happening. You're saying that it doesn't happen. It must make you a bit upset to hear this. Is there some way of clearing this up once and for all, perhaps invite some people from outside to come in and do an investigation and if there is as you say no truth to it, that would exonerate the military?
TIKOITOGA: We have indications that these things are not happening. We have an increased influx of tourism, we have a lot of investors coming to invest handing confidence back in the country. And these things wouldn't have happened if those allegations were true. And it will only take you to come across and have a look at us to see that nothing has happened. There are different agendas by different people and they're pushing their own agendas, despite all the effort that's going on to maintain normalcy in Fiji.
HILL: If a neutral group from outside were perhaps invited to come in and do an impartial investigation, might that perhaps clear the air of these allegations?
TIKOITOGA: All the different embassies are here in Fiji, all the different NGOs are operating in Fiji. I don't know whether another impartial group would come in and see it differently. Everybody's doing their own thing and running their own business in Fiji. I'm not sure why do we need another group to come in and make an impartial investigation. The Red Cross is in operation in Fiji, all the different NGOs are still operational here in Fiji. And we have not stopped any of their operations. The NGO's from both New Zealand and Australia are all over the country, the rural development group. I don't know where these allegations are coming from.
HILL: Do you think the media should run these allegations if they can't be substantiated?
TIKOITOGA: I don't know whether that is responsible reporting to actually run something that is not substantiated, because you are just increasing or the media or whoever answers without substantiation would perhaps be furthering the agenda of the people that are making the allegations. But that's something the media have to grapple with, I can't make that decision from where I'm sitting. I would sincerely hope that the people who are listening to your station in Australia and New Zealand would appreciate the fact that people come and go in Fiji. The normal tourists that move around in Fiji. the NGOs from different countries that come in and do their work in the rural areas, all the rural development work. If they are not complaining, if they are not raising these allegations, then you have to question the people that are raising these allegations, because as far as law and order in Fiji is concerned there's a court system that's in place, and there's also the Fiji police force that's taken over its role in the maintenance of law and order in Fiji.