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The Rugby World Cup may be the carrot needed to encourage Fiji's military government to lock in an election date, the Government hopes.
Foreign Minister Murray McCully has signalled that the Government might relax its travel bans for Fiji if its self-appointed Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama takes steps towards holding an election in 2014.
The tournament, due to kick off in September, has been out of bounds for Fijian players and fans connected with the military government.
The sanctions instigated by Australia and New Zealand came in the wake of a 2006 coup and Bainimarama's ongoing refusal to return the country to democracy.
But Mr McCully now says New Zealand would be prepared to relax its sanctions if Fiji gave "a pretty clear indication that they are headed for the polls within an acceptable time frame".
The World Cup could provide just the motivation, he said.
"The NZ government has never really wanted to exclude Fijian people coming to New Zealand for the Rugby World Cup, but the sad fact is members of their administration and military are on the banned list," the minister told the New Zealand Herald.
"Unless something happens to allow changes to occur on the sanctions front, then those people aren't going to be able to come."
Mr McCully said Fiji was yet to deliver any hard evidence of progress to elections, but it was now "closer than it was before".
The stance appears markedly softer than the one outlined by Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd in a recent visit to New Zealand.
Mr Rudd told Television New Zealand last week that he did not support an approach of offering incentives to promote change in Fiji.
It was Mr Bainimarama himself who needed to compromise, he said.
"Bainimarama is the one who must change here, and therefore if we were to so compromise and say, 'That's okay, only if you have half a coup' ... that is unacceptable," Mr Rudd told TVNZ's Q+A program.
"We're not in the business of legitimising what has been a very ugly military coup," he said.