Fiji military leader admits beatings, torture
As Fiji prepares for its first elections in eight years, the new head of the all-powerful armed forces has admitted that citizens have been beaten and tortured by the military regime, claiming it was necessary to stave off civil disorder.
“I wouldn’t deny that these things happened,” said Brigadier-General Mosese Tikoitoga, hand-picked successor of Frank Bainimarama, who has stepped down from the military to contest the elections. “But a lot of these people were actually trying to instigate violence by creating anti-government movements or militant groups.
“They were talking on the radio and so on … If you let them continue to have a voice, you create a potentially dangerous environment. So it was the lesser of two devils.”
In his first interview with an overseas media organisation since taking over as commander in March, General Tikoitoga also vowed that the military would respect the result of the September 17 election. “We will not have another coup, as such – that’s quite definite,” he said
However, the army would not tolerate an elected government rewriting the new constitution, he said. The constitution – drafted by the regime of self-appointed Prime Minister Mr Bainimarama, and Fiji’s fourth such document in 34 years – grants immunity from prosecution to everyone involved in the December 2006 coup.
Opinion polls suggest Mr Bainimarama – who has founded his own political party, Fiji First – will win the most seats, although analysts predict he may have to govern in coalition. The dictator enjoys widespread popularity, thanks to a rural development program and the introduction of free education in public schools.
Indo-Fijians – the victims of racially motivated violence following earlier coups – are also keen on Mr Bainimarama, who ousted an indigenous Fijian government in 2006. The prime minister claims that his armed takeover was a “revolution” aimed at healing Fiji’s long-standing racial divisions, as well as stamping out corruption.
Travelling the islands recently to recruit members for Fiji First, Mr Bainimarama said: “Fiji can’t afford for me to lose this election, because there’ll be no one to keep the revolution going. Sodelpa [the Social Democratic Liberal Party, which he threw out of power] will come back and we’ll have the same old faces and same old racist policies.”
Mr Bainimarama also declared that he “couldn’t give two hoots” whether Australia and New Zealand, which recently lifted travel sanctions against the dictatorship, welcomed Fiji back into the diplomatic fold.
Expelled from the Commonwealth and Pacific Islands Forum, the coup-ridden nation has forged new alliances with China, India and Indonesia and “we’re not going to blow them out now … They’ve been our friends, true friends,” he said.