Push to block Fiji from UN peacekeeping

Sydney Morning Herald – THE Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, says the United Nations should look at punishing Fiji’s military rulers by further limiting the involvement of its soldiers in peacekeeping forces – a move that would seriously damage the country’s economy.

Australia and New Zealand have been leading efforts to pressure Fiji’s interim government over its recent abrogation of the constitution and crackdown on the media and the judiciary.

The country’s military ruler, Frank Bainimarama, seized power in a bloodless coup in 2006 and has backed away from earlier plans to hold elections this year.

Mr Rudd discussed the crackdown at a meeting in Canberra yesterday with Papua New Guinea’s Prime Minister, Sir Michael Somare. The two agreed to press ahead with efforts to suspend Fiji from the Pacific Islands Forum. “Australia’s position is hardline,” Mr Rudd said. “You cannot sustain within a family of democracies [such as] the Pacific Island Forum or the Commonwealth a government like that of Fiji which simply treats with contempt the most fundamental democratic institutions and press freedoms.

“Through our interventions with the United Nations, supported by New Zealand and other countries, the UN now is not going to engage future Fijian troops for new operations. There is a question which now arises as to whether there should be a further tightening on top of that.”

Fiji’s economy is heavily reliant on UN payments for peacekeeping contributions and remittances from soldiers abroad. About 600 soldiers serve as peacekeepers in Lebanon, Iraq, East Timor and in the Sinai.

Fiji’s interim government dismissed claims it would not be allowed to provide further peacekeepers, saying the UN had not taken action against other countries that have had coups.

“Precedents have been set, like Pakistan, Thailand, all these are very big troop contributing countries to the UN, so what are they talking about?” a government spokesman, Neumi Leweni, told the news website Fijilive.

Two commentators on Fiji from the Australian National University, Jon Fraenkel and Stewart Firth, have argued in a new book that UN peacekeeping operations helped build up the strength of Fiji’s military and led to the coups in 1987 and 2006.

“Over the 30 years since 1978, around 25,000 Fiji soldiers have served on overseas peace-keeping missions, bringing home an estimated $US300 million [$428 million],” they write in The 2006 Military Takeover in Fiji: A Coup to End All Coups?, published by ANU E Press.

“In recent years the Iraq War has brought more income to Fiji … Tens of thousands of Fijians have served in foreign theatres in almost 30 years of peacekeeping … The overall effect has been to boost the morale of officers and troops … and to professionalise the [force] as a military institution.”

Jonathan Pearlman Foreign Affairs Correspondent
April 29, 2009

God bless Fiji

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