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Fiji-NZ relations to worsen with expulsion of top diplomat

New Zealand's already tense relationship with Fiji is almost certain to deteriorate within the next 24 hours as the Government defies an ultimatum from self-appointed prime minister Commodore Voreqe (Frank) Bainimarama.

The military leader 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.

Foreign Minister Murray McCully took a diplomatic stance tonight when he spoke to NZPA.

"All I can say is that when you have sanctions of the sort we have in regard to Fiji, there are often pressure points and issues that arise," he said.

"We try to manage those issues in a constructive fashion."

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

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.

Cdre Bainimarama's regime has found the sanctions increasingly irritating, and has apparently decided to escalate the issue into a serious diplomatic incident.

- NZPA

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