The feud between the army and the government is worsening with the RFMF now threatening to take over control if the government fails to meet its responsibilities to the nation.
Army chief Frank Bainimarama in a Media statement Monday accused the government of initiating policies that were “hurting the general populace and so decisive that they have ended up taking away our rights and freedoms”.
“The military is willing to return to complete for this nation the responsibility we gave this government in 2000 and 2001. It was the military that gave investor confidence back to the country and not the government…” Bainimarama said.
The standoff between the army chief and the government, on-going for two years now, is over the support and sympathy the Qarase-led government is showing towards terrorists involved in the May 2000 coup.
It first began over government’s decision to stop the court martial proceedings against rebel soldiers who had taken part in the coup. The SDL government tried to get the President to intervene and pardon the soldiers.
When Baininmarama angrily denounced the scheme, government tried to get rid of him by terminating his contract but backed off when it met resistance from the army.
Since then the feud had simmered with Bainimarama withdrawing his soldiers from providing armed security for the Prime Minister and over government’s decision to release from jail high-profile prisoners convicted on coup-related charges by using special ministerial directives through Compulsory Supervision Orders.
Matters came to a head when the SDL government introduced the Amnesty Bill designed to give a general pardon to all those convicted for terrorist activities at the time of the coup.
An angry army commander realized that the government was undermining all his efforts in bringing to justice people involved in the coup. The latest round of hostilities, which surfaced over the Christmas holidays, was triggered off by government’s attempts to delay the appointment of a judge to head the court martial of rebel soldiers.
The military had recommended the appointment of Fiji Law Society President Graham Leung with a salary of $130,000. Government had sat on the appointment until the Commander threatened to take over the office of the CEO for Home Affairs.
Government then claimed the salary offered was too high. Finally, after two weeks of bitter wrangling it gave in to Leung’s appointment at the recommended salary.
The debacle merely went to show to the infuriated army commander that government would stoop at nothing to undermine his efforts to bring to justice all those with complicity in the 2000 coup and the civil unrest that followed.
In his Monday statement he charged that “Any retreat on the part of the military would mean the continued abuse of leadership and governance in this country. This must stop.”
He further charged: “This government brings in racist policies and programmes to justify its existence to the indigenous community. These are policies created by those who took part in the events of 2000 and which we all know were mere lies created to influence the community to support the cause of the opportunists.
Bainimarama accused the Qarase government of burying its head in the sand to avoid being answerable for its wrong doings and lacking the moral courage to do the right thing.
“This smacks highly of a bullying government, lacking character,” he admonished.
The prime minister himself has been unusually silent over the hostilities with the army, letting Home Affairs Minister handle the conflict.
Government has asked Vice President Jone Madraiwiwi to conciliate. He is supposed to meet with the army chief sometime this week.
Meanwhile, other Cabinet Ministers have been gagged from commenting on the issue.