Fiji Rebel Leader Won't Recognize Military Leader

Tuesday, May 30th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

SUVA, Fiji (AP) — The leader of armed rebels holding Fiji's government hostage in parliament refused today to recognize the authority of the country's new military ruler and called on the army to replace him.

George Speight — who led Fiji's coup attempt May 19 and holds more than 30 hostages, including Prime Minister Mahendra Chaudhry — questioned Commodore Frank Bainimarama's control over the military.

Bainimarama took power in Fiji on Monday and declared martial law, saying he wanted to end the crisis that began here when Speight took his hostages. But at a news conference in the parliamentary complex, Speight claimed that only half the military supports Bainimarama and the other half supports the rebels.

He said he would meet a delegation of senior army officers today for negotiations to end the crisis but would not talk with Bainimarama. Speight accused Bainimarama of remaining loyal to former President Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara, who stepped down Monday. His resignation had been one of Speight's main demands.

``I think Commodore Bainimarama is a lost cause,'' Speight said. ``I think he is so blinded by his allegiances to Ratu Mara that it clouds his ability to take the right decisions.''

Speight is a member of the Fijian majority. He wants Chaudhry, Fiji's first prime minister from the Indian minority, removed from power and Indians barred from leading the country again.

Fijians of Indian ancestry make up 44 percent of the population of 813,000 on this Pacific Island, but control much of the nation's commerce in this country 2,250 miles northeast of Sydney, Australia. Indigenous Fijians blame the 1997 constitution for giving too much political power to the ethnic Indian minority. Speight wants the constitution scrapped.

Fiji's new military rulers have not cracked down on the rebels or stopped their supporters from entering parliament. And the BBC reported Monday night that the military leaders said they will grant amnesty to Speight, in line with pledges made by Mara.