SYDNEY: Australia and New Zealand announced tit-for-tat expulsions of Fiji’s top envoys today, exacerbating tensions with the military regime and deepening its isolation.
The two countries made near-simultaneous statements a day after the Pacific island state ordered their own envoys out, claiming interference in its judicial affairs.
“This excuse is neither warranted, reasonable nor justified,” Australian Foreign Minister Stephen Smith told reporters in Perth. “We worry about Fiji further isolating itself from the diplomatic community,” he added. It is the third time Fiji has thrown out a New Zealand envoy since its latest coup in 2006, but the first expulsion of a diplomat from Australia, current chair of the Pacific Islands Forum.
“Diplomatic relations with Fiji are roughly the same they have been for the last couple of years, unfortunately,” New Zealand Foreign Minister Murray McCully said in Wellington.
“We have had our ups and downs and unfortunately today they are down.” Australia and New Zealand have led condemnation of military leader Voreqe Bainimarama since he seized power from
the elected government in December 2006 in Fiji’s fourth coup in two decades.
Both countries have slapped travel sanctions on people connected with the regime, which was suspended from the Commonwealth and Pacific Islands Forum this year for failing to return to democracy.
Australia ordered out Fiji’s acting high commissioner Kamlesh Kumar Arya and New Zealand ejected acting head of mission Kuliniasi Seru Savou.
Bainimarama, in turn, accused the Australian and New Zealand envoys of waging “a negative campaign” against his government and people.
“We are suspended from the Commonwealth. Australia and New Zealand have suspended us from the (Pacific Islands) Forum,” Bainimarama told New Zealand’s Radio Tarana.
“So it really doesn’t make any difference. But... we can’t afford to be bullied.”
The United States embassy in Suva said it “deplores” Fiji’s expulsions, and called on Bainimarama to ease
emergency regulations restricting free speech and move towards democracy. “These actions have undermined any opportunity for progress toward re-engagement and
constructive dialogue between Fiji and its neighbours,” it said in a statement.
“The United States reiterates its call for the repeal of the Public Emergency Regulations to restore the rights to free speech and assembly that are essential for Fiji’s return to democracy.” Bainimarama had accused New Zealand of humiliating High Court judge Anjala Wati when she sought a visa to get medical treatment in New Zealand for her baby.