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NZ Rules Out Travel Ban

Contributor:
Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media
Murray McCully
Murray McCully

Wellington, April 14 NZPA - The Government has ruled out banning New Zealanders from visiting Fiji, saying to do so would make it no better than the island nation's military administration.

Fiji is becoming increasingly unstable, with the military today taking over the Reserve Bank in Suva and sacking Governor Savenaca Narbue.

Local media are being censored, papers are no longer covering political events and international media have been expelled; TV3's Sia Aston and Matt Smith arrived back in New Zealand this afternoon after being detained in Suva overnight, and Australian television reporter Sean Dorney has also been deported.

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.

Fiji is a popular holiday destination for New Zealanders, particular families, and the latest unrest comes as the school holidays kick in.

Foreign Affairs Minister Murray McCully today said anyone considering travelling there should think "long and hard" about it.

"Not because of anything we've seen so far except that we're now entering a realm of unpredictability in the behaviour of the administration there, and I wouldn't want anyone to think that it is a riskless exercise for them to go to Fiji," he said.

"Obviously events in Suva are more concentrated and more dynamic than elsewhere but I think that New Zealanders should be quite careful about travelling to Fiji at the moment."

However, Mr McCully all but ruled out imposing a travel ban on New Zealanders.

"I personally don't believe that we would want to go down that track. It makes us no better than the administration in Fiji," he said.

"We have got ways of toughening up the warnings that we give and so on. Again, I think that we need New Zealanders to make their own decisions about what they do."

New Zealand and Australia already had trade and travel sanctions against Fiji, such as banning Fijian military and their families from entering their countries.

However, it was unlikely trade sanctions would be toughened as they tended to punish innocent people.

Australian Foreign Minister Stephen Smith indicated his government had a similar stance to that of New Zealand.

"There are a range of other things that we could do but they would all have the effect of imposing further suffering on people in Fiji who are already suffering as a result of their government's actions," Mr McCully said.

"The fact of the matter is, and we need to face this fairly and squarely, that we can't stop the Fijian government from wrecking their economy if they are hellbent on doing so, and it appears that they may well be hellbent on doing so.

"We can't make them have elections. All we can do is send the right signals through the international organisations that we're a part of and offer our help, which we have done, when the time comes when they want to be helped.

"Clearly they don't yet want to be helped."

Mr McCully described the military's takeover of the Reserve Bank as an "act of vandalism".

The bank is housed in the same building as the New Zealand High Commission and while people entering and leaving the building were being checked, commission staff were not being targeted.

"We're just monitoring events carefully and making sure that we don't cause undue alarm," he said.

The 16-nation Pacific Island Forum, of which Fiji is a member, had in January warned it would suspend Fiji unless a date for a democratic election was set by May 1.

Mr McCully would talk to forum leaders in the next few days but suspension appeared inevitable.

"I think it's true that the Commonwealth, the UN, the EU, other organisations internationally take their lead from the regional organisation, so forum members will no doubt look at whether there is any collective action they should take," he said.

Mr McCully would also be speaking to UN representatives about the organisation's continued use of Fijian soldiers.

"Quite frankly, the fact that the UN continues to use Fijian peacekeepers plays into the hands of the interim regime," he said.

"They sustain the interim regime both in terms of credibility and in terms of cash.

"It's very regrettable that the UN continues to do that."

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