Tonga's PM calls for softer stance on Fiji

By Claire Trevett

Tonga's Prime Minister, Fred Sevele, wants the Pacific Islands Forum to reconsider its tough stance on Fiji's interim Government and give it more time to move to elections - a call which contrasts with the views of the New Zealand Government.

After meeting Prime Minister John Key yesterday, Dr Sevele said the decision to suspend Fiji from the Pacific Islands Forum in May had had the opposite effect to what was hoped.

He believed it was time for the forum to reconsider and give Fiji some time to set its way forward rather than ostracise it further.

His stance appears softer than that adopted by New Zealand and the hedged support for Fiji could make it difficult for the Pacific forum leadersto reach a consensus on further action against Fiji when they meet inAugust.

After the abrogation of the constitution in Fiji last month, interim Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama set a 2014 timeline for elections - five years more than the 2009 deadline the forum had set.

Dr Sevele was noncommittal on whether 2014 was satisfactory, saying it was up to the Government and Fiji to make that decision.

However, Mr Key was quick to state that the 2014 date Fiji had supplied was "unacceptable" to New Zealand.

Mr Key said New Zealand was still willing to engage with Fiji if there was a genuine commitment towards elections, "but it would have to be a pathway quicker than 2014 from our perspective".

"We don't want to leave him out in the cold, but nor do we want to sanction an illegitimate regime."

Dr Sevele said Fiji was under "considerable pressure".

"It's perhaps time to let Fiji ponder over the implications of what is happening there now. The pressures will mount. The alternative is to cut off links with Fiji, ostracise Fiji, the economy is going to go further down a ruinous path. Do we want that?"

Dr Sevele said allowing Fiji's economy to buckle would saddle any future democratically elected government with a failed state.

He and Mr Key also discussed the Registered Seasonal Employers' scheme allowing companies to recruit workers from Pacific Island countries, which Dr Sevele said he hoped would continue.

- NZ Herald

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