Sunday, May 15, 2011

Flight Of A Fugitive? (Updated)

The saga of Tevita Uluilakeba Mara's flight from Fiji to Tonga is certainly gaining much attention on the web.

TVNZ web article highlights the diplomatic and cultural complications, derived from the events in question. TVNZ video.

The excerpt of the TVNZ web article:

Tonga harbours fleeing Fijian army officer
Military tension in the Pacific is raising fears of a conflict between Fiji and Tonga.
Tonga's navy spirited-away a high ranking Fijian army officer charged with trying to overthrow Fiji's military leader Frank Bainimarama. 
Lieutenant Colonel Tevita Mara, who has strong Tongan connections, is now under the kingdom's protection. Tonga's small navy is no match for its bigger Fijian military counterpart, but the kingdom's force not only rescued Mara, they are giving him sanctuary. 
"When I was rescued by the Tongan navy, I asked to be brought to Nukualofa, where the sure protection of King George's government I shall be able to tell the truth without fear of retribution about the tragic oppression that stifles my beloved land," Mara said.
Mara is the son of late president Ratu Mara. Along with Pita Driti, a high ranking commander, Mara was charged a week ago with mutiny and accused of trying to overthrow the Bainimarama regime. 
But he is now in the Tongan capital, Nukualofa, after being picked up by the Tongan navy south of Fiji's Lau islands. 
Mara is under the protection of the Tongan royal family, who he is related to. Bainimarama has said he will institute extradition proceedings tomorrow to have Mara returned to Fiji and he has asked the police to investigate who helped him to escape Fiji. 
In a press conference early this evening, Bainimarama said he takes "strong exception to the breaches of Fiji's sovereignty" and he is appealing to the Tongan royal family to "stop being in conspiracy with a self interested individual". 
Bainimarama described Mara as of a "despicable nature". Malakai Kolomatangi from Canterbury University said the move is quite surprising given the fact there will be diplomatic and military ramifications. 
"I think this needs to be settled and resolved quickly. We are perhaps looking at two major powers in terms of influence in the Pacific, going head-to-head," Kolomatangi said.
"Many observers have said in the past if you have standing armies doing nothing then you have a problem." 
The diplomatic situation between Tonga and Fiji has recently been tense, with both laying claim to the Minerva Reef which lies between the two countries. And Mara's message against Fiji's regime, believed to have been filmed in Tonga, has been posted on YouTube.
"When this hateful dictatorship has been eradicated, all of us who once served it shall answer to the Fijian people," he says on the video. 
ONE News Pacific correspondent Barabara Dreaver said this is "very much a developing situation with potentially serious implications for the region".
She said New Zealand foreign affairs official are keeping tabs on what is happening.
But Dreaver said the two countries are linked by blood ties and there is a feeling the issue will be sorted out on diplomatic terms.

Fiji Prime Minister addressed the issue in a press conference on Sunday evening. (MP3 posted below)

Fiji exiles board has a thread discussing the strange sequence of events, involving Tevita Uluilakeba Mara, the youngest son of the late Fiji President Ratu Kamisese Mara.

Post Script

The layers of expert opinions are interviewed by New Zealand media.

NewstalkZB interviews Tonga member of Parliament (M.P) Akalisi Pohiva regarding the situation. (MP3 posted below)

TVNZ interviews Associate Prof. Stephen Hoadley, a foreign affairs specialist with University of Auckland.

3 News interviews Prof. Steven Ratuva a Pacific Islands scholar from University of Auckland Centre for Pacific studies.

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