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John Key Says Fiji's Future Within Forum On The Table At Talks

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Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media
John Key
John Key

Wellington, Jan 20 NZPA - Fiji could face suspension from the Pacific Islands Forum over its interim government's decision not to hold elections this year, Prime Minister John Key said today.

Self-appointed Prime Minister Voreqe (Frank) Bainimarama today said he had cancelled plans to attend a forum leaders' meeting to discuss Fiji's future because of flooding in his country.

Mr Key and leaders from 15 other Pacific countries are meeting in Papua New Guinea next week to decide the fate of Fiji's membership in the group over a lack of progress towards democracy since Commodore Bainimarama seized power in a coup two years ago.

Cdre Bainimarama had planned to attend the meeting, and had sought a travel ban lifted so he could transit through Brisbane, but today said he would be unable to because of the severe flooding.

"The last thing I want to do is move away from here at this time," he told Radio Tarana.

Mr Key said it was doubtful Cdre Bainimarama ever intended to go and said today's decision was disappointing.

"I am also concerned and disappointed to hear the comments that he is effectively ruling out Fiji returning to democracy in 2009," Mr Key told reporters.

A letter from Cdre Bainimarama to the forum secretary Toke Talagi published in the Fiji Sun on Monday ruled out an election before the year is up.

The interim leader had previously committed to elections this year.

"Ultimately the Pacific leaders need to consider what sanctions they want to put on Fiji and that will be dominating discussions," Mr Key said.

While he believed domestic responsibilities were important, Mr Key said the meeting was Cdre Bainimarama's chance to front up and explain how his country would be returned to democracy.

"I think there's a growing sense of frustration from Pacific leaders that the interim government needs to indicate it is serious about undertaking elections."

New Zealand would argue for elections at the meeting.

"We believe that Fiji has got to start demonstrating quite publicly and with a sense of legitimacy that they intend to restore the country towards democracy.

"We haven't seen that and we don't accept the argument its not possible to do that in 2009."

Australia and New Zealand have imposed sanctions on Fiji 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 synch with the rest of the Pacific leaders."

A meeting in Niue last year was unanimous in wanting progress and the forum's ministerial contact group would make strong recommendations at the PNG meeting.

"We are just one of a series of leaders that will need to make a call on the future plight of Fiji and what sanctions if any will be imposed on them."

Options included suspending Fiji from the forum, something that has not happened before.

Professor Brij Lal, a specialist in Fiji governance at Australian National University in Canberra, said while suspension was best for the region it was "very unlikely" given Tonga has said it would not support it.

He said the floods were a "lame excuse" for Bainimarama to not attend the meeting.

"He was looking for any excuse to get out of it."

Foreign Minister Murray McCully has been in contact with other leaders and Mr Key said he would have a chance to talk to several who were flying in on his New Zealand Air Force flight.

Fiji earlier called off a visit by the joint United Nations and Commonwealth mission to promote democratic elections because of the floods.

NZPA PAR AAP mt gt

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