Fiji crisis deepens as military secure parts of Suva

Fiji's military has said it will tonight secure areas of the capital Suva because of fears of "foreign intervention" against a possible coup.

The announcement came after talks in Wellington between Fiji's prime minister and his defiant military chief to avert the country's fourth coup in 20 years failed to reach a resolution.

"The exercise is in anticipation of any foreign intervention and the Republic of Fiji Military Force is taking all precautionary measures," it said in a statement.

Fijilive.com reported this evening that Police Commissioner Andrew Hughes, an Australian, has gone on leave to join his family in Brisbane following the meeting.

The website reported he had been threatened and moved to secret location in Suva several days ago.

Fiji's Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase and maverick military commander Voreqe (Frank) Bainimarama completed more than two hours of crisis talks in Wellington aimed at preventing another military coup.

The meeting at Government House was brokered by Prime Minister Helen Clark and Foreign Minister Winston Peters, who saw it as a vital first step in ending the tense standoff between the two men.

Commodore Bainimarama left Government house about 12.40pm, but no word was immediately available on the outcome of the talks.

Cdre Bainimarama was accompanied in a New Zealand Crown car by one other man, but he looked sombre and gave no sign or signal to media who surrounded his car as it exited.

Governor-General Anand Satyanand, who hosted the talks but was not present at them, left about 20 minutes earlier. Mr Qarase departed a few minutes later.

Mr Peters said in a statement the meeting had concluded so Cdre Bainimarama could catch a scheduled flight back to Fiji.

Before he arrived, Mr Qarase said Fiji's future depended on today's meeting but Cdre Bainimarama had previously offered little chance of success.

"It's very simple. He (Mr Qarase) comes with a yes or a no to our demands, full stop," he said last night.

"He's going to be wasting his time debating issues with me. The meeting's going to be the shortest meeting he's ever attended in his life."

As Mr Qarase prepared to meet Cdre Bainimarama, he said there was fear and anxiety in Fiji as the country faced the possibility of a fourth military coup in two decades.

"The future of Fiji really depends on him and I today," he said.

Troops

Cdre Bainimarama raised the stakes at the weekend, calling up about 1000 army reservists and ordering armed troops onto the streets of Suva.

He has threatened to "clean up" the Government, and until today there had been no high-level attempt to negotiate a way through the impasse.

Cdre Bainimarama is demanding an immediate end to a police investigation into whether he should be charged with sedition for threatening to oust the Government.

He also wants Police Commissioner Hughes to be dismissed.

Cdre Bainimarama, in New Zealand for a family christening, had been due to return to Suva yesterday and there was intense speculation that a coup would be mounted when he reached the capital.

But Mr Peters persuaded him to stay in Wellington and a Royal New Zealand Air Force plane was sent to fetch Mr Qarase, who arrived late yesterday.

Helen Clark said last night she could not answer questions on what compromises might be possible between Mr Qarase and Cdre Bainimarama.

"I think it's very much getting people together in a room and seeing whether talks can work, and if so in what format and what timeframe," she said.

Mr Peters said New Zealand was doing what it could to prevent a coup.

"Some differences, I think, can be resolved with ease because of our ability to facilitate that, and there are some that are going to take a big, big step on behalf of both those men," he said.

- NZPA, NZHERALD STAFF

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