Select Committee on Foreign Affairs First Special Report


Second memorandum submitted by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office on the attempted coup in Fiji (28 July 2000)

  1.  The Committee have requested a memorandum on developments in Fiji since 30 June 2000, including the Government's views on the reported settlement, the steps it intends to take following the settlement and its view on Fiji's continued membership of the Commonwealth.


  2.  On 30 June, George Speight and his supporters were still holding 27 hostages in the Parliament complex; and negotiations were continuing between Speight and Commodore Bainimarama, leader of the Interim Military Government, over the possible terms of their release. The security situation around the complex was tense, with Bainimarama attempting to tighten the military cordon in order to put pressure on Speight. There were a number of opportunistic looting and arson incidents across the country, particularly directed at Indo-Fijians.

  3.  Following the decision by the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group on 6 June to suspend Fiji from the Councils of the Commonwealth, the international community warned of possible further measures if the new government was unconstitutional or racially-biased, and if Speight was not brought to justice.


  4.  On 3 July, Commodore Bainimarama announced that he had appointed an interim civilian government with Laisenia Qarase, a banker, as interim Prime Minister. Cabinet members were mostly professional people with no obvious connections to Speight or to any political party. Authority was to be exercised jointly between the new cabinet and the military, which would continue to be directly responsible for national security. Bainimarama said that he would remain acting Head of State until the hostages were released. It was his intention that the interim government would remain in place for 18 months, pending preparation of a new Constitution and the holding of elections.

  5.  There were no Indo-Fijians in Bainimarama's interim government. The two main Indian opposition parties both issued strong statements condemning the announcement of the new interim administration and calling for a return to an elected, democratic government. Bainimarama confirmed that the 1997 Constitution (which had been carefully worded so as to enable Fiji to rejoin the Commonwealth) had been abrogated, and that it would not be reinstated. He announced that the 1990 and 1997 Constitutions would be reviewed by the new interim government with the aim of preparing a new Constitution.

  6.  Mr Battle issued a statement on 4 July (the day the new interim administration was sworn in) calling again for the immediate, unconditional release of the hostages; reminding the Fijian authorities that, although composed of civilians, the new administration was no substitute for a democratically elected government; expressing concern that the 1997 Constitution had been abrogated; and calling on Commodore Bainimarama to take urgent steps to restore a democratically elected government, under an internationally acceptable constitution, which respected the rights of all Fijians.

  7.  The UK, along with Australia and New Zealand, decided to maintain working-level contacts with the new administration, while making clear that these contacts did not imply recognition or approval. The US withdrew its Ambassador for consultations.


  8.  Bainimarama and Speight finally agreed terms for the release of the hostages and signed the Muanikau Accord in Suva on 9 July. The deal provided for the release of the remaining 27 hostages on 13 July; the surrender of all arms and ordnance stolen by the rebels; the appointment of an interim President and Vice-President, to be nominated by the Great Council of Chiefs; the establishment of a new interim civilian administration (to replace the one appointed on 3 July); the creation of a Constitutional Review Commission; repeal of all military zone and exclusion orders; immunity for Speight and his supporters; and the return of all rebel service personnel to army duty, reinstated at their former ranks. Speight indicated that he expected to have a considerable hand in the formation of the new administration.

  9.  Nine further hostages were released on 12 July. The remaining 18 were released on 13 July and Iloilo was appointed Interim President by the Fijian Tribal Council with the task of forming a new government. The new administration announced by Iloilo on 18 July included four Cabinet ministers and three junior ministers who could clearly be identified as Speight sympathisers. These included the Minister of Agriculture, Apisai Tora, who was a prominent member of the Taukei movement (which campaigns for the rights of indigenous Fijians) and had been seen manning a road-block put up by Speight supporters; the Minister for Lands and Mineral Resources, Mitieli Bulanauca, who was previously sworn in as a member of the government Speight himself appointed at an earlier stage in the crisis; and the new Minister for Health, Ratu Timoci Silatolu, who visited Speight and his supporters in the Parliament complex a number of times while the hostages were being held.

  10.  The new administration also included Qarase, the previous interim Prime Minister and 13 other members of the previous interim administration. These were mainly capable technocrats. The new Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Fijian Affairs, Ratu Epeli Nailatikau, was former President Mara's son in law. In addition, the new administration included one ethnic Indian, George Shiu Raj, as Minister for Regional Development and Multi-ethnic affairs.


  11.  On 13 July, Mr Battle issued a statement welcoming the release of all the hostages held captive since 19 May but expressing dismay that Speight and his supporters had been allowed to overthrow Fiji's democratically elected government at the point of a gun. He also expressed dismay that the hostage-takers appeared to have been given an amnesty and a role in forming the new administration, when they should be brought to justice for their criminal actions. Mr Battle stressed that the British Government had consistently called for the restoration of democratic and constitutional government, which respected the rights of all Fijians and would continue to do so.

  12.  On 13 July Mr Battle also spoke to the Commonwealth Secretary-General and discussed the scope for further Commonwealth action.

  13.  On 18 July, the Government announced the withdrawal of the British High Commissioner for consultations. Australia and New Zealand announced that they too were withdrawing their High Commissioners. Mr Battle also told the Fijian High Commissioner in London of our disappointment that the new government included individuals associated with Speight, that the 1997 Constitution had been abrogated, and that the hostage takers had not been brought to justice.

  14.  Later on 18 July, Mr Battle telephoned the Australian and New Zealand Foreign Ministers to discuss developments in Fiji and the scope for a co-ordinated international response. Mr Downer and Mr Goff explained the measures which Australia and New Zealand had taken in response to events in Fiji and urged the UK to take similar measures. Mr Downer called on the UK to press the UK organisers of the Rugby League World Cup (to be held in the UK in October) to find a replacement for Fiji.

  15.  The following are the key measures announced by other governments:

    —  Australia: suspension of government-to-government co-operation under the Australia-Fiji Trade and Economic Relations Agreement; termination of new scholarships and training; termination of a number of aid projects, representing a 30 per cent cut in Australia's bilateral aid programme; suspension of all defence co-operation; work to encourage the transfer of regional meetings to other venues; ban on Fiji national sporting teams playing in Australia (except for the Olympics); cancellation of Speight's visa; any application for entry by other individuals involved in the hostage taking to be considered in light of those actions.

    —  New Zealand: list of prohibited migrants expanded to 300 names; ban on government scholarships for the families of prohibited migrants; suspension of bilateral defence co-operation, including sending home Fijian military personnel currently training in New Zealand; halving of aid (except for ICRC or Human Rights Commission-related projects); and extension of ban on sporting contacts with Fiji until 31 December.

    —  United States: suspension of security assistance and defence co-operation; and examination of legislation which provides that no funds may "finance directly any assistance to any country whose duly elected Head of Government is deposed by military coup or decree."

  16.  As set out in my reply to a parliamentary question on 28 July, we have announced a number of targeted measures against Fiji:

    —  In the absence of any immediate improvement in the situation on the ground, the Government is urging EU partners to open consultations under Article 366a of the Lomé Convention to establish a timetable for return to democracy. All new EC aid to Fiji is currently on hold pending detailed discussion within the EU.

    —  The Government is pressing our EU partners to impose restrictions on travel by George Speight and his associates.

    —  All Foreign Office-funded assistance to Fiji's government is being cancelled.

    —  Naval visits and joint military exercises have been cancelled. All UK defence co-operation with Fiji will remain under review.

    —  The Government will not issue licences for any arms or security equipment for export to Fiji where there is a clear risk that it will be used for internal repression. All applications for strategic export licences for Fiji are examined against our national and EU criteria on arms exports.

  17.  Ministers looked carefully at the Australian request to urge the UK organisers to exclude Fiji from the Rugby League World Cup but took the view that the decision was one for the International Rugby League Federation, on which the national bodies of all the main rugby league nations were represented. The Fijian National Rugby League wrote to the Prime Minister declaring its commitment to multi-racial rugby at all levels of the game.

  18.  On 22 July, the British High Commission took part in an EU demarche by the French Presidency and Commission representative to the Permanent Secretary of the Fijian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The French Ambassador expressed the EU's concerns about developments in Fiji, and warned that if democracy were not restored the EU would reconsider its development assistance to Fiji, and would also invoke the consultations procedure set out in article 366a of the Lomé Convention.


  19.  Following the appointment of the new interim government (which has still not been sworn in) Speight set up camp with several hundred of his supporters and tried to put pressure on President Iloilo to include some of his supporters in the government. However, on 26 July Speight and three of his supporters were stopped and detained at a military checkpoint. According to the military, they will be charged with several offences including carrying weapons in violation of the terms of the amnesty; threatening the life of the President and being in breach of the curfew. The amnesty previously given to him and his supporters has been cancelled and he is, therefore, liable to charges dating back to 19 May and other outstanding civil cases against him. After Speight's detention there were reports that his camp had been cleared of rebels by the military and a large number taken into custody. Two New Zealanders (civil pilots) are reported to have been seized by rebels on Vanua Levu.

  20.  In the meantime, former Prime Minister Chaudhry and members of his deposed cabinet are discussing the possibility of forming a government in exile. They have called to the international community to support their restoration to office as Fiji's legitimate government.


  21.  We agreed with our Commonwealth partners at the CMAG meeting held on 6 June, and subsequently confirmed to the Fijian authorities through the CMAG Ministerial mission that visited Suva on 15-16 June, that we would assess Fiji's progress in drawing up a roadmap to democracy at the next CMAG meeting in September. Since we do not yet have a confirmed government, and the situation is still in flux, we see no reason for the Commonwealth to take precipitate action before then. It is too soon to say what position we will take at the CMAG meeting in September.

  22.  However, one of the key reasons for excluding Fiji from the Commonwealth between 1987 and 1997 was the terms of its 1990 Constitution, which discriminated against Indo-Fijians. Since the 1997 Constitution has been abrogated, Fiji currently has no constitution. The Constitutional Review Commission has been asked to draw up a new one. In doing so it will need to ensure that it is compatible with Commonwealth principles. These principles are set out in the Declaration of Commonwealth Principles of 1971, which established fundamental principles of human rights for Commonwealth members, including specific references to racial prejudice, intolerance and oppression. In addition, the Harare Commonwealth Declaration of 1991 actively promoted democracy, good governance and respect for human rights and the rule of law; while the Millbrook Commonwealth Action Programme of 1995 was adopted to "fulfil more effectively (Commonwealth members') commitment to the Harare principles." Any attempt to reintroduce the discriminatory provisions of the 1990 Constitution is likely to be met with a firm response from the Commonwealth.


  23.  We will be pressing Fiji both bilaterally and multilaterally, including through the European Union and the Commonwealth, to draw up a roadmap to restore democratic and constitutional government. Our aim is to ensure that Fiji can once again take its place as a valued member of the international community.

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Prepared 9 January 2001