Chaudhry sees US hand in Fiji coup

Ulhas Joglekar ulhasj at SPAMbom4.vsnl.net.in
Thu Aug 24 17:38:45 MDT 2000


Tuesday
22 August 2000

Chaudhry sees US hand in Fiji coup

By Mahendra Ved
NEW DELHI: Deposed Fijian Prime Minister Mahendra Chaudhry has charged that
his predecessor Sitiveni Rabuka had planned the May coup against his
government, to become the country's president, but George Speight, who was
party to the conspiracy, upstaged the plotters by acting three days too
soon.
Far from being the result of an ethnic divide, the coup was triggered by his
government's decision to award contracts for harvesting forests and
processing of timber. The US embassy in Suva, he alleged, was "pushy" about
an American firm getting the timber contract. "I think big bucks were
involved," he told The Times of India.
As for the May 19 coup when he and his cabinet minister were captured in the
parliamentary complex, Chaudhry said: "The action was planned for May 22.
But Speight beat them to it by three days. And having scented power, Speight
wanted to remain in the driving seat, to become the prime minister himself
or nominate one of his men."
"Speight is a fall guy, used by those defeated in last year's election.
Rabuka very much played a behind-the-scene role, Speight and his accomplices
told me while I was their hostage. I had heard Speight asking on the
telephone about Rabuka. Lingeri, Speight's principal aide, told me the plan
was that Rabuka would take over in the name of the Great Council of Chiefs,"
he said.
"Rabuka had met me a little before Speight acted. His plans failed because
of Speight. Speight himself could not take matters to their logical
conclusion. So the crisis lingered on," Chaudhry said.
He added that his government had favoured Commonwealth Development
Corporation (CDC), a British government-owned firm with a good track record
in Africa. But Speight, during the Rabuka Government, had favoured Timber
Resource Management (TRM), a US firm put together to bid for the right to
exploit Fiji's forest wealth.
"There is speculation that the US embassy put indirect pressures on my
government through the attorney-general and prominent coalition members.
There was big money and power involvement. So we want an inquiry to find the
real players behind the scene. I think the game-plan was to remove us
because we couldn't be bullied."
Chaudhry further alleged that, "Speight was their proxy. He received money
from the TRM."
AFP reports from Suva: Poseci Bune, minister for agriculture in the deposed
government, revealed that Speight, minutes after taking the government
hostage, said he was not the real leader of the coup.
Rabuka, a former prime minister who had plotted two coups, is not above
suspicion, though he has denied any involvement in Speight's coup.
The army intends to hold a court martial to deal with the conspirators and
interim president Iloilo has promised the appointment of a commission of
inquiry into the coup. But whether these inquiries will reveal the real face
of the man behind the May 19 coup is a moot point.
Nevertheless, some are wondering whether Speight, facing trial for treason,
might reveal in court the identity of the man who failed to turn up at one
of the defining moments in Fiji's history.
"
Box: Fijian drama
``Speight is a fall guy, used by those defeated in last year's election.
Rabuka very much played a behind-the-scene role...There is speculation that
the US embassy put indirect pressures on my government through the
attorney-general and prominent coalition members. There was big money and
power involvement. So we want an inquiry to find the real players behind the
scene. I think the game-plan was to remove us because we couldn't be
bullied."
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