U.S. envoy snubbed in Fiji

Its military ruler rebuffs the American diplomat

SUVA, Fiji » Fiji's military ruler snubbed a senior U.S. envoy last week, refusing to meet him and talk about returning the South Pacific nation to democratic rule.

Glyn Davis, deputy assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs, was scheduled to meet Fiji's self-proclaimed prime minister Commodore Frank Bainimarama last week -- but was told the commander was too busy.

It was the first visit to Fiji by a senior U.S. official since Bainimarama seized power in a bloodless coup on Dec. 5.

"It had been my intention to meet with Commodore Bainimarama, but he has not agreed to meet with me. His decision is unfortunate and represents a missed opportunity," Davis said Friday.

"A meeting would have allowed us to have an open exchange of views and for him to hear directly what the United States believes is necessary for Fiji to move forward politically, economically, and what we are prepared to do to promote that important goal," he said.

Instead, Davis held talks with Fiji's interim foreign minister, Ratu Epeli Nailatikau, and interim finance minister, Mahendra Chaudhry, on Thursday.

He restated a Pacific Islands Forum plan that calls for the military to return to barracks and to refrain from involvement in politics, and for Bainimarama to relinquish power to a civilian.

"Unfortunately, based on my meetings with government officials, I see little evidence that the military and interim government are prepared to release their grip on power," Davis said.

Bainimarama will not be invited to a meeting of Pacific leaders in Washington planned for May because of the coup, the U.S. envoy said.

"He has said publicly that he will not attend the meeting. So that makes it easier for us," Davis said.

The U.S. is prepared to respond positively if Fiji's military and the interim government make clear progress in restoring human rights, the rule of law and democracy, he said.

In a short statement Friday, Bainimarama explained his refusal to meet Davis by saying he will "only engage with countries and parties that are genuinely committed to assisting Fiji in moving forward."


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