back to new archives for 15-17 June 2000
Pasifik Nius - USP Journalism Programme
-------------------
UNIONS STAND FIRM IN SPITE OF HARASSMENT
By David Robie
© USP Journalism Programme

SUVA: Trade union leaders in the Fiji Islands have warned that any
"solution" to the Pacific country's political crisis based outside the
1997 multiracial constitution will lead to more economic sanctions.

The warning comes amid growing allegations of harassment of cane growers
and union officials, particularly in the sugar belt of western Viti Levu
island.

Thugs this week tried to burn down the home of leading trade unionist
Diwan Shankar in the capital Suva but were foiled by neighbours who
called police.

Shankar, assistant secretary-general of the Fiji Trades Union Congress
(FTUC), was not at home when the fire started on Sunday night. Part of
his living room was damaged.

Neigbours saw six men setting fire to the home and police are
investigating the arson attempt.

Newspapers this week have carried bitter letters attacking trade
unionists, particularly FTUC secretary-general Felix Anthony, over the
trade bans by Australia and New Zealand.

The letters appear to have mostly been written by expatriate businessmen
who blame the unions for the crisis rather than rebel leader George
Speight and his gunmen.

Yesterday's Labour Ministry figures reported that the number of jobless
people since the crisis began a month ago had now reached 4122.

The military yesterday arrested and detained Anthony amid claims that he
was spearheading the cane harvest boycott in the west.

He was arrested and manhandled at the entrance of Ba town shortly after
dawn on his way to meet union members at Rarawai mill and released about three hours later.

"I was earbashed and abused. I felt threatened and do not know why I was
arrested," Anthony told the Fiji Sun.

"We are legal organisations and we should be allowed to exercise our rights in the country."

Cane grower unionists were reported on Radio Fiji today as accusing the
interim military government of "marginalising and suppressing"
Indo-Fijians in their country of birth.

They claimed that there was a campaign of "ethnic cleansing" in Fiji as
a result of the Speight rebellion and the seizure of the Fiji Labour
Party-led elected multiracial government as hostages in Parliament on May 19.

According to the Fiji Times, Anthony said the military must work within
the 1997 constitution.

He said the congress would not support any illegal actions or decisions
taken by the military which did not conform with the constitution.

"The FTUC demands that the military act to ensure that there is a return
to democratic rule as soon as possible," Anthony told the Fiji Times.

"We remind the military of their oath to the government of the day and
the constitution.'

He added that the military was the only authority in a position to
minimise the hardship and pain of the people.

A delegation of senior trade unionists from the International
Confederation of Free Trade Unions Asia and Pacific regional
organisation is expected in Fiji next week to assess the impact of the crisis.

About 200 Rarawai mill workers walked off their jobs yesterday to
protest against military harassment of union officials.

Fiji Sugar Clerks and Supervisors Association secretary Satendra Singh
was quoted by the Fiji Times as saying the workers were "fed up" with
military intervention.

"We made it clear that the military should not harass union officials
and farmers," he said.

But the military denied claims of harassment by soldiers.

The Western military commander, Lieutenant-Colonel Henry Manulevu, was
quoted by the Fiji Times as saying the claims were an "outright lie".

"We are only going around and asking farmers to harvest their cane," he
said.

Three cane farms, two near Nadi and one near Rakiraki, were set ablaze
yesterday with a combined total of about 220 tonnes of cane worth almost
$10,000 being burnt.

In other developments yesterday:

* Police are investigating what was described by the Daily Post as an
attempt on the life of the Secretary of Fijian Affairs, Ratu Meli
Bainimarama, by armed thugs over the stand-off between the ministry and
the Native Land Trust Board (NTLB) management team.

Ratu Meli, elder brother of the military commander, Commodore Frank
Bainimarama, was at home with family members on Thursday night when a
military mobile patrol thwarted attempts to set the residence ablaze
with molotov cocktails.

* NTLB general manager Maika Qarikau is under investigation for the
circulation of a document titled "Deed of Sovereignty" which has been
described by the Fiji Sun as a "propaganda paper"

Landowners who have signed the document claim they have been misled by
the board into signing their land over to the so-called "Taukei civilian
government" of rebel leader Speight.

* Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer said at Nausori Airport,
when leaving after a day-long Commonwealth mission to the country, that
the delegation had been told by the military government that Fiji would
return to democratic rule within two years.

He said: "We made the point that two years seemed to us like a very long
time."

On BBC World television, he said: "You cannot run a government if you
have a multiracial country like Fiji, unless you have an inclusive
system. It won't work."

* The Fiji Law Society has appealed to judges to remain in office and
warned them to honour their oath to uphold the 1997 constitution.

"Otherwise history will treat the present judges most unkindly," the
society said in a letter signed by president Peter Knight to Chief
Justice Sir Timoci Tuivaga.

"Any lesser conduct is equally as treacherous as the conduct of the
original perpetrators of the events of May 19."

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Title -- 2800 FIJI: Unions stand firm in spite of harassment
Date -- 17 June 2000
Byline -- None
Origin -- Pasifik Nius
Source -- USP Journalism Programme, 17/6/00
Copyright -- USP Journalism
Status -- Unabridged

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last revision June 18, 2000