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Minister Warns Against Travel To Fiji

Contributor:
Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media
Murray McCully
Murray McCully

Wellington, April 14 NZPA - New Zealanders should think twice about visiting Fiji, Foreign Affairs Minister Murray McCully says.

He has also raised the possibility of travel and trade bans to the troubled Pacific nation but said they were not preferred options.

New Zealand High Commission staff had managed to visit TV3 reporter Sia Aston and cameraman Matt Smith, who are being held in Fiji before deportation, Mr McCully said.

They are expected to be on a flight today.

Local media are being censored and papers are no longer covering political events.

The latest turmoil in Fiji was prompted by its Court of Appeal ruling last Thursday that Commodore Frank Bainimarama's regime, in power since staging a 2006 coup, was illegal under the country's 1997 constitution.

In response, the country's ailing 88-year-old president Ratu Josefa Iloilo sacked the judges, dissolved the constitution, ruled out any election for five years and briefly removed Cdre Bainimarama before re-appointing him as prime minister.

Mr McCully shared his Australian counterpart Stephen Smith's description of the situation in Fiji as a dictatorship.

"We've effectively got a self-appointed dictator who has abrogated the constitution, sacked the judges, tried to suppress media freedom and clamped down on the liberties of citizens. It doesn't get much worse than that," Mr McCully told Radio New Zealand.

New Zealand would consider its response over the next few days after consulting Pacific Islands Forum nations and the Commonwealth.

It was important to "get the line right" on sanctions between sending a strong signal and hurting citizens, he said.

"There are some other things that can be done but they all involve difficult judgments about impacting on the ability of people to trade and to travel."

He noted there was no trade sanction right now. Sanctions mainly focus on the ability of members of the regime to travel here.

"It's not under consideration yet but we'll be talking to the forum and other countries, particularly Australia and PNG over the next 24 hours."

Mr McCully also raised the possibility of restricting New Zealanders' ability to travel to Fiji.

"Effectively the regime is sort of doing that at the moment by making it a much less desirable place to go to, but the New Zealand Government is always reluctant to do anything that's going to curtail the liberties of its citizens."

However, he urged New Zealanders to think twice about holidaying in Fiji. Foreign Affairs and Trade yesterday upgraded its travel advice for Fiji.

"It's now a very much less predictable place than it was. Previous coups have seen a relatively stable environment most of the time. This time we are seeing a very ugly side of the regime where they are clamping down on personal freedoms, media freedoms and there (is a) serious sense of a crackdown on the institutions and individuals who are defying the government.

"I'd say to New Zealanders `think carefully about whether you need to go there".

Mr McCully said New Zealanders involved in business in Fiji had talked to him about their problems but the solution ultimately lay in Fiji's own hands.

"We can't make them hold elections, we can't stop them wrecking their country if that's what they are intent on doing. There are all sorts of signs that Cdre Bainimarama is intent on wrecking his country before giving into the wishes of the international community."

Labour leader Phil Goff said Fiji's regime has lost its "veneer of respectability" now its citizens had been stripped of rights and the media put under state control.

He expected emphatic action from international bodies.

"Almost certainly the Commonwealth will suspend Fiji entirely from the Commonwealth -- that's an automatic process, I'd be very surprised if the Pacific Islands Forum didn't do the same. We've already heard harsh words from the United Nations," he told Breakfast on TV One.

Other countries may follow New Zealand's stance of redirecting any development assistance through agencies rather than the government, Mr Goff said.

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