New Zealand lifts ban on Fiji strongman Bainimarama

August 13th, 2008 - 5:03 pm ICT by IANS  

Wellington, Aug 13 (DPA) New Zealand will lift a ban on Fiji’s military strongman Frank Bainimarama next week so that he can face criticism at a meeting where regional leaders are expected to demand why he is reneging on a promise to hold elections next year, officials said Wednesday. Bainimarama, who ousted Fiji’s elected government in a bloodless coup in December 2006, and two of his senior ministers, will be allowed to transit through Auckland on their way to Niue for the Pacific Islands Forum meeting on Aug 19-20.

Bainimarama, Fiji’s military head who has declared himself prime minister, will travel on an Air New Zealand flight that is also expected to take New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark and her Australian counterpart Kevin Rudd to Niue.

Both New Zealand and Australia placed a travel ban on all members of the Fijian military government after the coup, but Auckland is the only airport with direct flight links to Niue.

Bainimarama gave an undertaking at last year’s Pacific Islands Forum summit in Tonga that he would hold an election in the first quarter of 2009, but has since said publicly that he cannot keep to that timetable.

A group of foreign ministers of the 16-member forum who went to Fiji last month for talks with the government said later that lack of political will seemed the only obstacle to holding the poll by next March.

New Zealand officials said Wednesday that the travel ban was being suspended because forum leaders wanted to hold Bainimarama accountable for his undertaking to hold new elections.

Clark said this week, “His recent statements indicating that the interim government has no intention of honouring that undertaking are of great concern.”

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