Melanesian Spearhead Group stands by Fiji | Pacific Beat

Melanesian Spearhead Group stands by Fiji

Melanesian Spearhead Group stands by Fiji

Posted 13 July 2009, 7:50 AEST

The Melanesian Spearhead Group has resolved to ask the Pacific Islands Forum to lift the ban on Fiji at the meeting in Cairns in August.

The MSG believe they are legally bound to allow Fiji to take part in regional trade and economic agreements such as PACER Plus and PICTA.

Presenter: Geraldine Coutts

Speaker: Sean Dorney, Australia Network's Pacific Editor in Port Vila; Eduard Natapei, Vanuatu Prime Minister; Frank Bainimarama, Fiji interim Prime Minister; Sir Michael Somare, PNG Prime Minister

DORNEY: Oh this was quite a victory for Commodore Bainimarama. Some of us were expecting there to be some suggestion or some urging of him to go to elections earlier than his proclaimed time of September 2014. But when the leaders finally had their news conference on Friday night, it was pretty clear that they were just saying right Commodore, we think you're on the right track. You've convinced us that you've got the plans that are going to suit Fiji into the future and we'll go along with what you say.

Here's a little bit of the communique as read out by Vanuatu's Prime Minister, Edward Natapei.

NATAPEI: MSG Leaders noted the Government of Fiji's "Strategic Framework for Change" which was announced on 1st July 2009. The Framework sets out key milestones and timelines on major political and structural reforms which are necessary for sustainable democracy. A major component of this reform, reform agenda is the formulation of a new Constitution that will ensure equal suffrage for all people of Fiji including electoral reform. Leaders noted that the Framework reflected a clear vision and strategic direction for far reaching changes that the people of Fiji would need in order to achieve sustainable democracy. Now on Fiji and the Pacific Islands Forum: Leaders acknowledged the central role Fiji plays in the Pacific region, particularly within the Pacific Islands Forum - PIF - and its associated agencies, and called on members of the Pacific Islands Forum and development partners to engage in open and constructive dialogue with Fiji. Leaders noted the importance of Fiji being continuously engaged in the PIF and the MSG. Leaders further recognise the importance of collective and inclusive group engagement in persuing their common interests in the region, including economic cooperation arrangements. Leaders recognised Fiji's right to participate in regional trade and economic cooperation agreements such as PICTA, PACER Plus and the interim EPA. The exclusion of Fiji from discussions of these agreements would be invalid and therefore the decisions pertaining to those agreements would be null and void.

COUTTS: Vanuatu's Prime Minister, Edward Natapei. Sean, quite clear and specific about what they want?

DORNEY: Yes, and when it came to questions, Mr Natapei deflected the first questions to Papua New Guinea's Prime Minister, Sir Michael Somare. It was just the two of them that fronted up to the press conference. The Solomon Islands Prime Minister, Dr Derek Sikua and Commodore Bainimarama were not there at the press conference, but I asked Sir Michael Somare a number of questions and he was saying that they had acceptable what Commodore Bainimarama was planning and that they accepted his arguments. I then said to or asked Sir Michael, whether the MSG leaders had agreed that Commodore Bainimarama should stay in power till 2014, and this what he said.

SOMARE: We support what he was doing and allow him to get the process in place. He's said 2014 but, you know, ah, under the Presidential Decree, we'd, you know, we left it to him to make the judgement. He's a better judge of what, what's to come in Fiji.

COUTTS: That's PNG's Prime Minister, Sir Michael Somare. Sean, Sir Michael has to-ed and fro-ed a bit. He's allowed himself to get involved and then has stood back when it comes to Fiji's input, hasn't he?

DORNEY: Yes, I asked him what was the difference between January, when he agreed along with all the other forum leaders that Fiji should be suspended and now, and he said well, in January, Commodore Bainimarama hadn't turned up to explain himself. He had turned up this time to the MSG meeting, the Melanesian Spearhead Group meeting, and explained himself and they accepted his arguments. I did ask Sir Michael what he thought of the draconian media censorship in Fiji at the moment and he made a bit of a joke, saying he wouldn't mind that sort of situation in Papua New Guinea.

I did manage to catch up with Commodore Bainamarama just before he flew out on Saturday. When I approached him first, he brushed me off and wouldn't speak to me, but then he turned around and said who are you, and I said 'I'm Sean Dorney from the ABC' and of course he threw me out of Fiji at Easter and he went oh, you're Sean Dorney, and he agreed to answer a couple of questions. So the very first question I put to him was that this was quite a significant victory for him

BAINIMARAMA: We came to tell the MSG Leaders what has happened since 2006 and what we need to do moving forward. And they've heard and they understood and that's good. That's great

DORNEY: And in Cairns you are hoping that they might put your point of view?

BAINIMARAMA: Yes, well, we're hoping, not only in Cairns that we'll talk to the rest of the international community about, about the roadmap and then hope for understanding from the international community.

DORNEY: And also on the trade issue they've come out very strongly in your support?

BAINIMARAMA: Well, the trade issue, as you understand, is, ah, we've made those known to, ah, the MSG Leaders and they've also come up with their support and understanding.

COUTTS: Fiji's interim prime minister, Commodore Frank Bainimarama.

Sean there could be two bans lifted, one on Fiji if they can get that through the Forum in Cairns and your own?

DORNEY: I don't think so. No, I don't think Commodore Bainimarama is going to relax the censorship and pressures he's got on the media. In fact, one of the resolutions or in that communique was the MSG leaders calling on Fiji or urging the government of Fiji to engage all leaders in its implementation process and a national reconciliation and dialogue involving all the leaders. Well, we know that back at Easter, just before the court decision was handed down, Commodore Bainimarama had his last meeting with political leaders and he excluded the leaders of the parties that won 70 per cent of the vote in the last elections.

There was one interesting thing that did come out of that press conference. The Prime Minister of Vanuatu, Edward Natapei, was asked if they had had a guarantee from Commodore Bainimarama that come the elections in 2014, the military would step back, that Commodore Bainimarama would go back to the barracks and this was the interesting response from Edward Natapei.

NATAPEIi: He made it quite clear to us that he would, after completing the work, move out but if he was requested by the people in Fiji to contest then he would consider it.

COUTTS: Edward Natapei, Vanuatu's Prime Minister. That's interesting, because Commodore Frank Bainimarama until this point has always said that once he gets everything tidied up, and the roadmap was done, that he would return to barracks?

DORNEY: Yes, I found that quite interesting, so there's a possibility he may follow the Seteveni Rabuka route and after staging a coup, and being in charge, then become a legitimate politician. But's let's see.

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