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Baimimarama Would Not Like Ticking Off By The Forum, Key Says

Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media
John Key. Pic: NZPA
John Key. Pic: NZPA

By Kevin Norquay of NZPA

Wellington, Jan 26 NZPA - Self-appointed Fijian Prime Minister Voreqe (Frank) Bainimarama would not like a dressing down from the Pacific Islands Forum, Prime Minister John Key said today.

Mr Key left for the forum in Papua New Guinea capital Port Moresby today, where Pacific leaders will tomorrow discuss Fiji's failure to return to democracy.

Leaders on the regional body will discuss whether to take the groundbreaking step of suspending Fiji or imposing other sanctions on it.

Cdre Bainimarama took power in a December 2006 coup, and has failed to take meaningful steps toward reinstating democracy.

Forum nations are disappointed at the lack of progress towards free elections.

They were also annoyed by Cdre Bainimarama's decision not to attend the meeting because of domestic flooding.

Suspension would be a first for the forum's 16 member states, and was unlikely but discussions would be intense.

Mr Key did not accept that Cdre Bainimarama would not care what the forum thought of him.

He would not like a "dressing down" by his peers, he told his post cabinet press conference.

"I think Mr Bainimarama will listen to the forum at one level because it is essentially a collection of his peers, and that is the leadership we can show," he said.

"In the end the decision as to whether Fiji returns to democracy is one Frank Bainimarama controls.

"If there is no political intent and no goodwill, it doesn't matter how much other countries express their displeasure, it won't happen.

The forum, which is based in Fiji, has no formal process for suspension and it will be up to leaders to thrash out measures they can take.

It could be that Fiji is banned from participation in certain programmes, for example.

Mr Key said even if the forum did not act, it was likely Fiji would soon be expelled from the Commonwealth Secretariat.

PNG Prime Minister Sir Michael Somare said on Friday he had delayed the meeting to allow Cdre Bainimarama to attend.

His office was forced to back down after chairing nation Niue overruled the decision yesterday and leaders including Mr Key called him to oppose the move.

Cdre Bainimarama was expected to send attorney-general Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum in his place.

The meeting was called after Cdre Bainimarama reneged on a pledge he made to a forum meeting in Tonga in 2007 to hold elections in March.

He said electoral reform was needed first.

Earlier Mr Key told NZPA the forum needed to tackle problems with members.

"There needs to a recognition that if this group fails to send that message then it weakens the group over all and leaves that responsibility to another body," he said.

Mr Key said he had a view on what action would be taken but would not prejudge the outcome of talks.

Mr Key said the forum was only as strong as its weakest link.

"We need to demonstrate the leadership that's required. That doesn't mean there's no flexibility and we're not sympathetic to some of the issues, particularly the flooding, nor should we be heavy handed but we do need to see progress."

The coup culture in Fiji was hurting the country.

"What we can be sure of is an interim illegitimate government in a country which has been dominated by coups is not a recipe for economic success in the Pacific."

Australia and New Zealand have imposed sanctions, including a ban on Fiji government members, officials or their families getting travel visas, and last year New Zealand's acting high commissioner was expelled.

Fiji has accused New Zealand of being heavy handed but Mr Key said New Zealand was not trying to bully the nation.

"This isn't a matter of Australia and New Zealand acting out of sync with the rest of the Pacific leaders."

Cdre Bainimarama has also accused New Zealand and Australia of being callous for expecting him to front up when floods claimed 11 lives in his country.

He failed to attend a meeting in Niue last year and Mr Key doubted the commodore would have attended in any event.

Melanesian countries are reluctant to act against Fiji but they want to hear from the interim prime minister.

Last week Sir Michael said he did not want to see Fiji suspended from the forum or Commonwealth.

"I think with our own Melanesian senses we should be able to get him talking to us."

Mr Key will hold bilateral talks with Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and Sir Michael while he is in PNG. He will visit the Solomon Islands on Wednesday.

NZPA WGT kn gt

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