UPDATED: TVNZ journalist expelled as Fiji row escalates

A TVNZ journalist has been sent home from Fiji amid a row over the New Zealand Government's refusal to grant a visa to the son of a senior Suva official.

Fiji's self-appointed prime minister Commodore Voreqe (Frank) Bainimarama has threatened to expel New Zealand's acting high commissioner if the visa is not granted.

One News reported that its Pacific Correspondent Barbara Dreaver had been taken into custody at Nadi airport last night, as she went through immigration.

Fiji Times editor Netani Rika said on Radio New Zealand today he understood Ms Dreaver was now on a plane home from Fiji.

TVNZ's head of news Anthony Flannery earlier told nzherald.co.nz Ms Dreaver had been in touch with TVNZ throughout the night from the detention centre where she was held.

"She was up all night. She was very weary and she was very worried during the night but she was treated well," Mr Flannery said.

"She's been over there numerous times and obviously she's touched some nerves around the place," Mr Flannery said.

He said the Dreaver family "have been very good about it".

"I think they're aware of the realities of being a correspondent," Mr Flannery said.

TVNZ had been told Ms Dreaver was on a Ministry of Information watch list created in July.

Expulsion threat

Cdre Bainimarama, who seized power in a coup two years ago, has threatened to expel New Zealand's acting high commissioner, Caroline McDonald, unless a visa is granted to the son of a senior official in Suva.

New Zealand imposed selective travel sanctions on Fiji soon after its elected government was overthrown by Cdre Bainimarama.

In October the Government refused to renew the visa held by George Nacewa, a Massey University student who is the son of Rupeni Nacewa, a secretary in the office of Fiji's president.

NZPA understands Cdre Bainimarama sent a direct ultimatum to Wellington last week - grant the visa, or the acting high commissioner will be expelled.

Further non-specific threats were made to expel other New Zealand diplomats.

Fiji has also refused to issue diplomatic visas to replace the defence attache, who leaves next week, and the police attache, who leaves in January, though it says those matters are unrelated. Australia is also being blocked in its bid to send a defence attache.

Foreign Minister Murray McCully said New Zealand had tried to take a constructive approach to its relationship with Fiji but he could not rule out Ms McDonald being expelled.

"We are trying to work our way constructively through any issues we have in contention and it would be a great pity if we were to see matters get inflamed at all," he said on Radio New Zealand.

Fiji had already broken its promise to hold elections in the first half of 2009, but there was a hope within Pacific Island Forum members that they could still be held at some later date, he said.

"We want to focus on those issues and we hope we don't get derailed in any way by particular cases or by other tensions that might arise."

He said it was possible Cdre Bainimarama was trying to test the new National Government, but he and his colleagues would be keeping their cool.

"You can be sure we will do everything we can to avoid any sort of boil over."

However, it is understood the Government has no intention of backing down and Fijian authorities will be told that the visa will not be granted.

Cdre Bainimarama

Cdre Bainimarama has become increasingly irritated by the restrictions and said if New Zealand wanted to help Fiji it should stop its travel restrictions which were extremely damaging.

"There is nothing happening in Fiji that people should be concerned about," he said on Radio New Zealand.

"There is no killing, there is no beating of people, the press are freer than they were before, so I don't know what the fuss is all about.

"We will return to parliamentary democracy when we are ready, but until then we will decide what we need to do in our country to take us forward."

A move to expel Ms McDonald could provoke a diplomatic tit-for-tat, with the Government ordering Fiji's high commissioner in Wellington, Ponsami Chetty, to leave.

Ministers are understood to be considering that, along with other options, in response to the anticipated expulsion of Ms McDonald.

Intense efforts are understood to have been made behind the scenes to avoid a showdown, but it appears inevitable that the row will boil over.

The travel and visa sanctions against Fiji apply to members of Cdre Bainimarama's regime, senior officials and their relatives.

George Nacewa is now an extramural student at the University of the South Pacific.

He said in November the sanctions list was wrong.

"It's supposed to only include permanent secretaries and my dad isn't one, he's just a normal secretary, he's a civil servant," Mr Nacewa said.

- NZPA

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