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McCully Confirms Envoy Expelled From Fiji

Contributor:
Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media

Wellington, Nov 3 NZPA - Anger over perceived delays in the processing of a medical visa for the sick child of a Fijian judge prompted the expulsion from Suva of acting New Zealand deputy High Commissioner Todd Cleaver.

Foreign Minister Murray McCully tonight confirmed Mr Cleaver had been ordered out by the interim government of Commodore Frank Bainimarama.

"Late this afternoon firstly the Australian High Commissioner and then New Zealand's Acting Head of Mission were called in by the head of Foreign Affairs in Fiji and told that they would be formally notified tomorrow that they had been declared personna non grata," Mr McCully said.

"The move follows a series of threats from the interim regime over recent days in relation to the effect that travel sanctions are having on members of the Fijian judiciary.

"In New Zealand's case the threats have been in the context of a judge who was recently caught by the travel ban but was granted a medical exemption to fly to Auckland with her daughter, who is currently getting treatment here for a non-emergency condition.

"The New Zealand government will now consider the appropriate steps to take in response to today's expulsion, and also assess the impact of this action on the already depleted resources in our Suva High Commission."

When Fijian judge Angela Wati sought a New Zealand medical visa for her child it was granted grudgingly, and only after the media became involved, Fiji's chief justice Anthony Gates told a press conference yesterday.

New Zealand and Australia had imposed travel restrictions on the Fijian judiciary, in protest at the Fiji being run without a democratically elected Government.

The New Zealand High Commission in Suva yesterday issued its own statement, saying an application for a visa on medical grounds by Justice Wati was not rejected.

It said the Wati family's passports were returned to the judge with visas attached.

Cdre Bainimarama ordered the Australian and New Zealand envoys leave within 24 hours over alleged interference with Fiji's judiciary.

"I have told the minister of foreign affairs to issue communications to the Australian and New Zealand governments that their respective heads of missions are to be recalled within 24 hours," he said in a televised address.

"I have also informed them our high commissioner (ambassador) in Australia is to be recalled with immediate effect."

He had ordered the expulsions because Australia and New Zealand had interfered with Fiji's judiciary and the travel of new judges from Sri Lanka.

The new judges would need to travel via either Australia or New Zealand. Cdre Bainimarama is bringing judges from Sri Lanka after sacking the judiciary this year.

Fiji, which has suffered four coups and a bloody military mutiny since 1987, was plunged into a fresh crisis in April after the president reappointed Cdre Bainimarama as prime minister, less than two days after the High Court ruled his 2006 coup and subsequent government was illegal.

It is the third time in three years the top New Zealand official has been kicked out of Fiji.

In 2007 then High Commissioner Michael Green was expelled and last year his successor, acting High Commissioner Caroline McDonald was expelled.

Mr Cleaver was the commission's number three.

A spokeswoman for Prime Minister John Key said he was in a state dinner with Prince Edward this evening, and was not sure if he had been briefed on the expulsion.

Australia and New Zealand have been at the forefront of condemnation of Cdre Bainimarama since he toppled Fiji's elected government in a December 2006 coup.

Both countries have travel restrictions on figures associated with the military regime.

Cdre Bainimarama said the heads of Australia and New Zealand's diplomatic missions in Fiji had refused to engage with the government.

"They misinform Canberra and Wellington and wage a negative campaign against the government and people of Fiji," he said.

"It is my government's duty to ensure that no foreign government should interfere with such judicial independence and integrity. We must always protect and be proud our sovereignty."

Australia and New Zealand, two of Fiji's major aid donors and trading partners, have been critical of Cdre Bainimarama and have called on him to hold fresh elections as soon as possible.

The Commonwealth said in September it had suspended Fiji after the nation failed to meet a deadline for opening talks on a return to democracy.

Cdre Bainimarama, who had promised an election this year, has now ruled it out until 2014.

Transparency International today backed Mr Gates in his call for the New Zealand and Australian Governments to lift travel bans against members of the judiciary.

Transparency said it supports any initiatives to strengthen the Fiji judiciary and the rule of law, the Fiji Broadcasting Corporation said.

Fiji must have an effective judiciary and that should be allowed to operate independently and free of outside interference.

It added that the travel bans would only affect the calibre of judges Fiji was able to attract.

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