Fiji and New Zealand trade diplomatic expulsions
By RAY LILLEY,Associated Press Writer AP - 2 hours 49 minutes ago
WELLINGTON, New Zealand - New Zealand's foreign minister said Tuesday that his country and Fiji's military regime have expelled each other's top diplomats in a rapidly deepening rift.
Foreign Minister Murray McCully said New Zealand's acting High Commissioner in Fiji, Caroline McDonald, was informed Tuesday that she had a week to leave the South Pacific country.
McCully said New Zealand would retaliate by ejecting Fiji's High Commissioner to New Zealand, Ponsami Chetty.
The diplomatic spat escalates a rift between the two countries over Fiji military leader Commodore Frank Bainimarama's broken promise to restore democracy by April next year. Bainimarama ousted Fiji's elected government in a December 2006 coup.
New Zealand, along with Australia, has been heading international pressure on Bainimarama to return the troubled nation to democratic rule.
The latest sparring started when New Zealand refused to grant a student visa to the son of a Fijian official under sanctions Wellington imposed on key members of Fiji's government and their relatives following the bloodless coup.
McCully said there had been "no misbehavior" by McDonald that would justify the decision to expel her, and that Fiji officials had given no reason for her expulsion.
He said Bainimarama had earlier threatened to expel McDonald if New Zealand did not grant the visa for the son of the senior official.
"The New Zealand government can't deal with these discussions with a gun pointed at its head," McCully said.
Australia's government immediately condemned Fiji's expulsion order, which came just hours after its South Pacific defense adviser was also ordered to leave the country.
"The interim government should be focusing all of its efforts on returning Fiji to democracy, not on these destructive decisions which will do no good for the people of Fiji," Foreign Minister Stephen Smith said in a statement.
Australian Defense Minister Joel Fitzgibbon said Fiji's decision was "deeply regrettable."
Fiji's Attorney-General Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum said earlier Tuesday that the government had decided against expelling McDonald "for now" but accused diplomats from Australia and New Zealand of being unprofessional.
"There is a New Zealand diplomat who is not acting or behaving diplomatically," he told New Zealand's National Radio, but added: "It should not in any way affect our ability on a government-to-government basis to rebuild our relationship or better our relationship."
Fiji officials were not immediately available for comment after McCully's statement.
Bainimarama has reneged on a vow to hold elections to restore democracy by the end of March 2009 _ a broken promise that has been condemned by many South Pacific states, the 53-member Commonwealth, the European Union and U.S.
Bainimarama has said there must be reform of Fiji's "racist" electoral system and corruption must be rooted out before elections can be held. He has given no timeframe for a ballot.
In a statement released before Tuesday's announcements on the diplomatic expulsions, Bainimarama accused New Zealand and Australia of "employing bullyboy tactics" and frustrating his government's efforts to improve Fiji.
"The governments of Australia and New Zealand who have consistently frustrated the efforts of the interim government through imposition of arbitrary, inhumane and punitive travel bans," he said.
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