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Archived News: May 2000

Message from Ranni Atalifo in Rotuma (26 May 2000)

Dr Alefaio, Doctor in Charge & Dr Eric Rafai have asked the following individuals to continue as members of the Hospital Board for the new millennium: Rani Atalifo as Chairlady, Margie Konrote as Vice-Chairlady, and Luise as Secretary. They were all elected at the last election of the Hospital Board.

The board members first target is to obtain an ambulance, for the hospital. on Rotuma urgently needs one. The ambulance that had been lent to us by the Red Cross in Suva, has now been taken back and with the lack of transport on the island, it is very difficult for people to travel to hospital in times of emergency. This is becoming ever more urgent with the virus that attacked the elderly and children.

Our island fundraising last December managed to raise $2,500, and the hospital board in Rotuma would like to thank everyone who supported their island night during the December Christmas period in Rotuma.

We would also like to express our thanks to those people who bought lots of tickets including, Dr Sakio Varea and Etike Fiu. Thanks to Nataniela Alfreti for the donations of champagne for the lucky door prizes and thanks also to Master Mausio, Master Manu Vilsoni, the Post Shop, Mobil, Mrs Sela Manueli for all your support.

However, this is still not enough for all the projects facing the hospital. Any donation would be greatly appreciated by all. Please forward donations to:

Ranni Atalifo or Dr Rafai
Rotuma Hospital
PO Box 54
Rotuma Island
Or contact us by:
Phone: 891 090
Fax: 891 276

From Marlon Isimeli in Suva (24 May 2000)


Breaking news last night was a press conference by the Chairperson of the Great Council of Chiefs, Mr Sitiveni Rabuka.

Best captured by this leading article in Fiji Times Wednesday 24 May, by Akanisi Motufaga.

"Chiefs back Mara move"

Chiefs last night rallied behind Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara in his attempts to bring an end to the hostage situation at Parliament House.

And the Council of Chiefs will meet again today to discuss issues relating to the hostages, whether amnesty will be granted and the fate of coup leader George Speight and deposed Prime Minister Mahendra Chaudry.

"The Council does not approve of what Mr Speight has done although there is a lot of sympathy towards those views and these have been shown in recent petitions and marches," said council chairman Sitiveni Rabuka. He said the council accepted an apology presented on behalf of Mr Speight and members were briefed by him, army commander Frank Bainimarama, police commissioner Isikia Savua and president Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara.

"Most of what Mr Speight wants will be dealt with tomorrow [today]," Mr Rabuka said.

Without saying much on the views of the chiefs on pending issues such as the status of Mr Speight's government and the fate of the hostages and Mr Chaudry, Mr Rabuka seemed confident of the council finding a resolution today. He added that Mr Speight could be imprisoned or charged with reason under the 1997 constitution. But he added that changes to the constitution were inevitable.

On Mr Chaudry's condition, Mr Rabuka said he had been told that the deposed prime minister did not have any visible injuries or show signs of assault.

"The last time I saw the hostages they appeared ok, but when I heard on Saturday that Mr Chaudry had been assaulted I went to see him on Sunday but I wasn't allowed in," he said.

Mr Rabuka maintained that he was still mediator between the president and Mr Speight.

He conceded that there would be backlash from the international community and locals but refused to comment on whether there would be violent backlashes around the country.

now off the record ....

Excuse the incoherent reporting as this is my feeble attempt at summarising what's happening locally.

There was a press conference held by Mr Speight at 5 am this morning, where he blasted the international journalists for their inaccurate reporting. In a nutshell, the situation is such where Mr Speight is waiting the ruling and submissions by the council of chiefs.

In the press conference last night with Mr Rabuka, the international journalists only concerned themselves with Mr Chaudry's health, though there are reportedly some 30 hostages. There have been some really off reports, such as claims that a local journalist was Mr Speight's media officer, all because the journalist held a special interview with Mr Speight. This journalist has publicly started his suing campaign on the journalist that reported that article.

Yesterday, at the parliament house, supporters turned up by the thousands with people brining in bundles of dalo and pigs for lovos that were held yesterday around the parliament house. As an international reporter mentioned, the mood was festive, with laughter and people around the tanoa. no Sefo the hostages.

Important note is that the two Indian doctors who were taken in on Monday to attend to Mr Chaudry and other hostages, reports Mr Chaudry as well taking into consideration the current situation - or words to that effect.

Curfew hours have changed from 8 pm to 5 am now.

The one thing that the international media couldn't grasp was why the chiefs accepted the traditional apology, with some journalists inquiring after the aspects involved in the apology presented by Mr Speight, spending a few questions on this issue. The 1997 constitution grants a great deal of power to the president should he take over in a national crisis - as he is currently doing right now. This gives him the right to form his own government , and as already mentioned, decide on the fate of the civilian takeover group. With the parliament dissolved and Ratu Mara in charge, the indigenous protocol takes over where decisions of such importance are arrived at by the high chiefs hence the GCC meeting to decide the fate of George Speight / parliament and the country.

After the 1987 coup, a national pardon /amnesty was granted to Rabuka and those who took part in the coup. Mr Speight argued this morning that he deserves that pardon, but he is only a civilian, not a military personnel like Rabuka was in 1987, and without the support of Ratu Mara.

In the city more offices are opening with more vehicles on the road and more and more people are coming in to work. Schools remain closed , mainly those affected by the lack of public transport because most schools depend on school buses for transporting their students.

Civil servants have to be at work on time as usual - quite ambiguous there :)- , and the business district is slowly getting back to normal.

Local stock on the stock market took a plunge yesterday with the index being at it's lowest - don't ask me to elaborate please :) The largest drop being faced by local brewery Carlton Brewery.

Will keep you all updated once the reports of the GCC meeting comes in.



Note: Marlon has forwarded a very revealing interview with George Speight. It gives a penetrating insight into the man and his motives.
From Marlon Isimeli in Suva (22 May 2000)

Hi there People.

News so far.

Besides what you can glean off the internet and CNN, please do not believe everything you hear. We have read all this crap about people listening to reggae music whilst supporting the hostage takeover outside parliament, talk about wanting to sell news regardless of ethics.

Family news is that now that the commander of the military forces is back in the country after cutting short a tour of the middle east, Uncle Alfred isn't under as much pressure as he was when he became the key personnel in negotiations between security forces around Fiji.

A few key points to highlight.

  • Hostage takeover at Parliament isn't supported by the President Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara.
  • The President has declared Fiji in a state of emergency, and he has the support of the Military Forces and the Police Force.
  • Sitiveni Rabuka was up till yesterday the middle man negotiating between the civilian 'terrorists' and Ratu Mara.
  • The leader of the civilian takeover George Speight is no longer using Rabuka as a mediator between the two parties claiming Rabuka wasn't representing them the way they wanted.
  • A group of 10 parliamentarians were released yesterday (Sunday) all of whom claimed they were forced to resign and sign papers before they could be released. Mahendra Chaudry's son - Rajendra - was also forced to resign, but hasn't been released yet. He is/was Mahendra Chaudry's personal secretary.
  • Family members of those held hostage are allowed to bring in their clothing and other things to make their stay in parliament comfortable. The Rotuman representative, Marieta Rigamoto, is still a hostage.
  • There have been a lot of reports speculating on gun shots, and contemplating a shooting out between the armed forces and George Speight's group, but all this is just to sell the news! I get so irritated at listening to all the overseas newscasts trying to sell this like they'd sell a takeover in Russia etc.!!!
  • Suva City today is quite empty, people coming in to work, essential services still being provided, civil servants urged to turn up at work - unionists calling for their members to go on strike as a show of protest against the civilian takeover (for what purposes I do not know since this won't help anyone, just being unionists I suppose).
  • Bus and public transport services are at a minimal - only two bus services reported as running today,
  • Most schools in the Suva area are being closed down for today till further notice.
  • There is a rush to the shops for people to stock up and this has caused a lot of the smaller shops to run out of stock over the weekend.

I have to go now, but will keep you updated on the latest as it progresses.

Regards to all and don't forget in your prayers the hostages, their families, and those dedicated to bringing peace to this nation of ours.

hanisiof, Marlon.

From Marlon Isimeli in Suva (20 May 2000)

Members of parliament were taken hostage yesterday by a group of civilians who'se plan was to overthrow govt and setup a new one aligned to the indiginous people. Mrs Marieta Rigamoto is one of the hostages, and I don't believe she has been released.

The group tried to replace the president , Ratu. Mara, but Ratu Mara has taken control and has placed the nation in a state of emergency, calling upon support of the Fiji Military Forces and Police Force. The Fiji Military Force acting commander is Col Alfred Tuatoko, because the commander is away overseas. The military has recalled all army reserves to report to camp ASAP, and are currently handling security around the general Suva town area. The Fiji Military Forces along with the Police Force have aligned themselves to the President Ratu Mara and are not participating nor supporting the group who took over parliament yesterday.

The goup's leader , George Speight , replied that he would not be held responsible for any actions resulting from these latest annoucements.

Leader of the Methodist Church, Rev Tuwere, and Rev. Jione Langi, were this morning holding prayer sessions with the hostages and their captors.

Our thoughts and prayers go out to all those being kept against their will in Parliament and their immediate families and, of course, to the members of the military and police forces, and families of those who're being given the responsibility to enforce law and order in this turmoil.

From Fijilive (5 May 2000)

Govt warns Rotuma king

SELF-STYLED Rotuman king Gagaj Sau Lagfatmaro is back on the island, sparking speculation that he wants Rotuma to secede from Fiji.

But Home Affairs Minister Jioji Uluinakauvadra is not amused. He wants to send a government team to Rotuma to investigate.

"I am told that this man, who was born Henry Gibson at Noa'tau, has arrived on the island spreading fear among the islanders," he said.

Noa'tau is one of the seven districts on the island. Reports from Rotuma said Gagaj Sau, a New Zealand resident, arrived last week to a rousing welcome by his followers from the Malmahau clan.

While the rest of the passengers, including two chiefs, remained on the aircraft, Gagaj Sau's followers spread the red carpet from the plane to the terminal for the king to walk on.

It was only after Gagaj Sau got to the terminal that the rest of the passengers were allowed to disembark - much to the annoyance of his opponents.

Gagaj Sau was installed by his followers as "King of Rotuma" amid controversy in the early 1970s, sparking bitter rivalry on the island which often turned violent. He has since lived in New Zealand.

He was banned by the military government, after the coups in 1987, from setting foot again on the island.

Mr Uluinakauvadra said reports suggested that Gagaj Sau was threatening the people to accept him as their messiah and asking the people to break away from Fiji and have their own constitution and government.

"This man is using the art of karate to put everyone on their toes ... I have heard that he is using the youths to win his desired title of being the King of Rotuma," he said.

"I think that, with the art of karate, Gagaj Sau is enforcing his ideas in the minds of the young ones first, to win their trust and heart, and then he will move to the older ones."

Mr Uluinakauvadra said that, as a result, many people seem to be living in fear that he might take over the island.

"I am sure that some people will be forced to accept him as their king because of the tactics he is using to manipulate them," he said.

"I think it would be right for me to send some people to Rotuma who can investigate and keep a tab on the situation there." He confirmed that no official complaints had been lodged with his ministry.

"There is no official report on the matter but the information is floating around and it would be right to check." Mr Uluinakauvadra said it is unfortunate that such a situation has again surfaced in Rotuma.

"He had tried to separate Rotuma from Fiji once and he is trying to do it again.

But, really, it's up to the people of Rotuma," he said. Mr Uluinakauvadra recalled that last year an American campaigned in Rotuma to make the island an independent state with its own constitution.

"Certainly, these two are not related but have the same desires," Mr Uluinakauvadra said. Efforts to speak with Gagaj Sau in Rotuma last night were not successful.

But a Malmahau clan elder, who did not want to be identified, said in Suva last night that Gagaj Sau is in Rotuma to preside over the meeting of the clan.

"There is no truth in the allegation that he wants to separate Rotuma from Fiji. He is not inciting fear into the people there," he said. "He is only there to attend the meeting of the clan and visit his relatives," he said.

The elder said only those inciting fear on the island are the Rotumans themselves who have nothing better to do.

From Fijilive (6 May 2000)

Rotuma crisis stuns Rigamoto

ROTUMA is not under threat from any outside force, said Assistant Agriculture Minister Marieta Rigamoto.

Ms Rigamoto, the Rotuman Island Council representative in Parliament, said yesterday that she had no knowledge of the alleged `unrest' on Rotuma.

"I have not received any complaints from the people of Rotuma on the issue and I have just known this through the media," Ms Rigamoto said. She said that if there was such a problem, let alone a threat, then the Council of Rotuma would have informed her.

"I should be the first person to know about things going on in my constituency and as for this case, I know nothing about it," she said.

"And if there is some element of truth in the media report then the Council of Rotuma should have known and up-dated me on it."

Ms Rigamoto said she was aware that Henry Gibson, or Gagaj Sau Lagfatmaro as he calls himself, was recently on the island to visit members of his clan.

"As far as I know Gibson is a Rotuman and has a permanent residence in New Zealand and at the moment he is visiting his relatives - and I don't see this as a problem," she said.

"Such visitors can stay in Rotuma as long as they don't disrupt the peaceful atmosphere of the island."

On the accusations that Gibson is using the art of karate to manipulate the people, especially the younger ones, Ms Rigamoto said karate is an art and no one can be stopped from practicing it.

"I have not received any reports on people being put to their toes with the art of karate, so there is no ground for me to make such unsubstantiated allegations."

She said the media should not speculate on such matters as it stirs up a sense of uncertainty among the people of Rotuma.

When asked if she had been briefed by the Home Affairs ministry, Ms Rigamoto said she has not been told anything on the matter.

"I met the minister recently, but he had not mentioned anything about Gibson and plans to send a team to Rotuma to investigate the allegations that are floating around."

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