Fiji's record 'has got worse'

By Audrey Young

Pacific Forum ministers meeting in Auckland yesterday were told Fiji's record has worsened "across the board" since they met last year.

But they have decided it is still important to keep contact with the military-installed regime and have accepted an invitation to visit in the next month or two, for what will be the third visit of the ministerial contact group.

Fiji was suspended from the Pacific Islands Forum last year and its bilateral relationships with Australia and New Zealand have been strained after a series of diplomatic expulsions.

Speaking after the ministers' meeting, Foreign Minister Murray McCully said it was not a matter of what good the visit would do but what the group's job was and that was to engage with Fiji.

"If things aren't going to get good tomorrow, maybe they will next week."

Australian Foreign Minister Stephen Smith, in Auckland for the meeting, said there was no magic solution or instant solution.

"But it's either engage in a dialogue or don't and we think engaging in the dialogue is worthwhile."

He said a report from Neroni Slade, the Secretary-General of the Fiji-based forum, indicated that "across the board, things have got worse in Fiji".

But the contact with Suva would continue in the hope of influencing the country's move towards democracy "sooner rather than later".

According to the ministers, Fiji Foreign Minister Ratu Inoke Kubuabola met the group and said Suva still planned a 2014 election - eight years after the 2006 coup.

Mr Smith said the contact group hoped to meet not only the Government but opponents of the Government as they had before, such as former Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase, Labour leader and former Prime Minister Mahendra Chaudhry and former Opposition leader Mick Beddoes.

Mr McCully was holding separate talks last night with Ratu Inoke.

Asked if there was any move to relax the travel ban placed on leading members of the regime, Mr McCully said: "We have nothing to reward."

Tongan Prime Minister Feleti Sevele chaired the meeting, which was also attended by Papua New Guinea Foreign Minister Samuel Abal, Samoa Works and Transport Minister Tuisugaletaua Sofara Aveau and Tuvalu Home Affairs Minister Willy Telavi.

- NZ Herald

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