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End of travel ban could ease tension

The decision of the New Zealand Government to lift the travel ban imposed on Fiji is expected to ease tensions between the two countries and pave the way for normalised bilateral relations.

The sanctions were imposed soon after Josaia Voreqe Bainimarama ousted the Laisenia Qarase Government and established an interim military regime on December 5, 2006.

Along with Australia and New Zealand, other Commonwealth countries suspended Fiji from membership of the grouping but Mr Bainimarama remained unrelenting.

He had said that he was determined to present Fiji with a new Constitution that would bring equity to all Fijians irrespective of their ethnicity and end corruption that was eating into the vitals of the society.

His announcement that Fiji will conduct elections on September 17 encouraged New Zealand’s Foreign Minister Murray McCully to lift the travel ban, which had kept hundreds of Fijian officials and others from visiting this country over the past seven-and-half years.

Pleasing progress

Mr McCully said that the progress that Fiji is making towards holding free and fair election deserves recognition from the Pacific region and international community.

“There are now more than 500,000 people registered to vote in the September elections, electoral commissioners have been appointed and importantly, Bainimarama has stepped down as the head of the Military. The visit by the Pacific Islands Forum Ministerial Contact Group in February (2014) was a success and the Commonwealth recently acknowledged the progress that Fiji is making,” he said.

He cited as examples the Electoral Decree issued by Fijian President Ratu Epeli Nailatikau on March 28, 2014 along with the appointment of an Elections Supervisor and confirming the date of polling.

“As a consequence of these developments, New Zealand will be ending all the remaining travel sanctions that we have in place against Fiji. This is a continuation of our policy to support Fiji’s return to democratic rule and reflects our close cooperation with Australia on matters relating to Fiji. The changes will end New Zealand’s travel ban, and remove all remaining restrictions on New Zealand Government departments working directly with their Fiji counterparts,” Mr McCully said.

He believes that the revised situation (after removal of sanctions) would allow New Zealand to ‘fully support’ Fiji in its efforts to return to democracy.

“This will also allow us to normalise our relationship with one of our closest neighbours,” Mr McCully said.

Australia agrees

Australia has also announced lifting its travel ban with Foreign Minister Julie Bishop saying that the move was a part of her Government’s decision to normalise bilateral ties.

“It follows the significant progress that Fiji has made towards holding elections by September. We are confident that lifting travel restrictions will lay a framework for closer dialogue and cooperation with Fiji on bilateral and regional issues,” she said.

Fiji non-committal

An official statement issued in Suva appeared ‘cool’ and non-committal.

It said, “The Fijian Government has always believed that the sanctions were ill-conceived and served only to discourage talented and qualified individuals from serving the Fijian people,” the statement said.

“The removal of sanctions is a positive step towards restoring normal relations between our Governments. The relations between our peoples have never weakened,” it added.

Self-determination

While New Zealand and Australia may believe let bygones be bygones, Fiji is not likely to forget the insult it has suffered as a nation since December 2006.

An indication to this effect was given by Fijian Foreign Minister Inoke Kubuabola at the 20th Australia Fiji Forum in Brisbane on July 23, 2013.

“Fiji no longer looks to just Australia and New Zealand as our natural allies and protectors, we look to the World. Jolted from our complacency by the doors that were slammed in our faces, we looked North – to the great powers of Asia, especially China, India and Indonesia and more recently to Russia,” he said.

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