Claire Trevett

Claire Trevett is the New Zealand Herald’s deputy political editor.

NZ, Australia to restore Fiji diplomatic ties

Foreign Affairs Minister Murray McCully. Photo / File
Foreign Affairs Minister Murray McCully. Photo / File

New Zealand will ease its travel bans on Fiji and top-level diplomatic representation will be restored in Suva, Australia and New Zealand after a breakthrough meeting between the Foreign Ministers of the three countries.

Foreign Minister Murray McCully said New Zealand and Australia will both appoint High Commissioners to Fiji again for the first time in three years after a series of diplomatic expulsions. Fiji would also re-establish a High Commissioner in both Australia and New Zealand.

And the travel bans on people associated with members of Fiji's interim Government and military regime would be eased in both Australia and New Zealand.

The measures were agreed to at a meeting in Sydney today between Mr McCully, Fiji's Foreign Minister Ratu Inoke Kubuabola and Australia's Senator Bob Carr.

Mr McCully said it recognised that Fiji was on "a positive track" toward promised elections in 2014, including starting voter registration and setting up a Constitional Commission as part of the reform of the Constitution.

Mr McCully said he expected to seek approval from Cabinet soon to drop sporting sanctions - which Australia did not have - and which caused significant anger from Fiji in the lead up to the Rugby World Cup.

Exemptions to the travel ban could be used as an incentive to encourage more civilians to take on senior Government positions in Fiji.

"The sanctions regime is an impediment to people taking on those roles. We want to give ourselves more scope to use the sanctions in a way that will support progress and not hinder it."

Other exemptions would be considered on a case by case basis - such as to allow officials to travel for trips related to the election or constitutional reform.

Mr McCully said it was an incremental process and restoring High Commissioners was still several weeks away.

"This is an important milestone, but it is just one step down a process that has many other steps involved in it. There was always a point in that process where we needed to get more engaged in supporting the positive momentum that is there. The restoration of High Commissioners all round will give us greater capacity to do that."

He said both he and Senator Carr had raised concerns about media freedom and human rights restrictions, and Kubuabola had assured them that Fiji would ensure free, fair and inclusive elections could be held.

Fiji had expelled a series of High Commissioners from both Australia and New Zealand since the December 2006 coup, resulting in reciprocal action against Fiji's diplomats. The most recent were Australia's High Commissioner James Batley and New Zealand's acting High Commissioner Todd Cleaver in November 2009.

- NZ Herald

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