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Sydney Morning Herald
Thursday, June 15, 2000
Hostages on agenda for new round of talks
By GARY TIPPET in Suva

Talks between Fiji's military government and George Speight's rebels are
"back on track" and an army spokesman said he was optimistic that a
resolution to the country's crisis - including release of the 31 hostages - could
be achieved in the next few days.

The military spokesman, Lieutenant-Colonel Felipo Tarakinikini, said
yesterday that the army would resume negotiations that were frozen more than
a week ago.

Joe Nata, spokesman for Speight, said: "We are happy. This is a good sign."
A source said the first meeting would probably be held on Saturday, and
would include Speight.

Colonel Tarakinikini told reporters: "We are looking for a resolution in the
next few days."

Asked if this included release of the hostages, he said: "The purpose of the
whole exercise going on now is to get a resolution that will resolve the whole
crisis in its entirety."

Nata said last night that despite Monday's so-called assassination attempt on
Speight - when soldiers fired on his car at a checkpoint - contact had been
maintained with the military through third parties.

"What's happened is that while all this stuff's gone on above over the last few
days, underneath there has always been some communication. This time
around it will surface again. It's an optimistic sign."

But sources warned against too much optimism, pointing out that almost two
weeks ago the military had suggested the hostages could be freed within 36
hours.

The announcement came despite Speight's earlier rejection of the military's
plans to name an interim civil administration by the end of the week - with no
places for members of his group.

Speight also sent a new list of conditions for negotiation, including a demand
that military chief Commodore Frank Bainimarama immediately allow Fiji's
influential Great Council of Chiefs to appoint a new president and
vice-president and decide the "line-up" of the new government.
This would allow the chiefs to include Speight or his supporters.

Speight's demands also included a widened amnesty for his supporters -
including those outside the hard-core group that took over Parliament on May
19 and even future participants - up to "the day of the release of hostages".

Colonel Tarakinikini announced the itinerary for the visit of Commonwealth
foreign ministers including Australia's Mr Downer.

He said the group would arrive tonight and begin meetings at 9am tomorrow.

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